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Shepherd Fairey’s poster for King Arthur: Legend of the Sword.

I’ve watched (and read) any number of Arthurian stories so I was interested in seeing Guy Ritchie’s new movie, King Arthur: Legend of the Sword. First off, this movie wasn’t as bad as the reviews made it out to be. Think of it as an Arthurian action-adventure story and you’ve got the gist of the film.

Ritchie takes a number of liberties with the familiar Arthurian legend. The main conflict is not between Arthur and his nephew, Mordred, but between Arthur and his wicked uncle, Vortigern, who has usurped the throne. There is a whole lot more magic–the sword Excalibur is a powerful magical weapon as opposed to being just a significant blade, the initial conflict that opens the film is between mages (magic-users) and non-magical humans, and Vortigern himself dabbles in sorcery.

In other ways, Ritchie holds close to certain medieval tropes. The bond between Arthur and his lads reflects the Anglo-Saxon idea of fellowship between a leader and his picked band of fighting men. Arthur does pull the sword from the stone revealing himself as the rightful king only in this case the stone is the transmuted body of Uther Pendragon.

 

Vortigern (Jude Law) and Arthur (Charlie Hunnam) confront each other after Arthur pulls Excalibur from the stone.

To recap the story, young Arthur is orphaned after Vortigern kills his parents and grows up in a Londinium brothel where he discovers that skills like pimping, con artistry, extortion, and street fighting are the perfect preparation for a career in politics. Vortigern, meanwhile, has spent the past 20 or so years building a large, phallic-shaped tower which when completed will make him the most powerful mage in the land as well as king. When Vortigern discovers that his brother’s son is still alive and in possession of Excalibur, Arthur suddenly finds himself on the run, dodging government troops, with a magical sword he can’t control, and a sudden change of career that he’s not sure he wants.

Jude Law as Vortigern.

The best thing about this movie, next to the epic soundtrack, is Jude Law. Some are to the manor born; Law was clearly born to look fabulous in a fur cloak while plotting evilly.

The main flaw of the film is the lack of well-written female characters which was a problem in Ritche’s Sherlock flicks as well. To give you an idea, there are only two female characters with any major presence in this picture: one is The Mage (below) and the other are the Syrens, a trio of tentacled witches who hang out in the castle’s basement moat.  Every other female character in this story is flat, underwritten, and apparently only exists to be window dressing or to perish horribly when the plot requires.

Astrid Berges-Frisbey as the Mage.

The Mage, who’s name we never learn, is absolutely critical to Arthur’s success, saving his life twice and helping him to learn to use Excalibur. Does she get a knighthood, a seat at the Round Table, or any kind of public thank you or acknowledgement from the guy she helped put on the throne? Oh, heck no.

The Syrens–essentially Macbeth’s three witches with squid bodies–are consulted by Vortigern (pro tip: never accompany this guy to any body of water) and are critical to his rise to power. Again, we never learn their names and their fate at the end of the movie is unclear. Presumably, they’ve swum off to a new moat or lake.

Personally, instead of watching powerful women help lesser men to the throne, I’d like to see a movie where the powerful women take the throne and the men play the helpmate roles.

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Re: American Gods

Just in time for Halloween, Starz un-embargoed the first eight episodes of its original series, American Gods, based on the book of the same name by Neil Gaiman.  If you haven’t read the book, you should–it’s good–but you don’t need to know the book in order to appreciate the TV series. The premise of the story is that gods need believers and when that belief fades, the gods themselves die out.

As the series opens, ex-con Shadow Moon (Rick Whittle) is adrift after six years in jail and the sudden death of his beloved wife, Laura. When aging con man, Mr. Wednesday (Ian McShane) offers him a job as his bodyguard, Shadow accepts despite his initial misgivings. Things go from bad to utterly weird as Shadow finds himself caught up in a battle between the Old and New Gods.

The book is a road trip novel with Wednesday and Shadow traveling across the country, encountering odd characters. Their travelogue is interspersed with vignettes about different immigrants coming to America and bringing their gods with them. For the TV series, producer Bryan Fuller has taken the book as a framework and expanded upon it, incorporating scenes and gods that Neil had left out of the book as part of the editing process.

One of the things I like about the series is the way it keeps the dream-like quality of the novel intact. Recommendation: buckle your seatbelts, kids. It’s gonna be a great ride.

And yet that is exactly what my colleagues and I at the University of Arnor library are doing . A little backstory: over the Fourth of July weekend, a water main broke on campus and dumped 40,000 galloons of water into the university utilidoors. Utilidoors are the utility or maintenance corridors that connect the buildings on campus. The bad news is that we did get an inch of water over a wide area of Level 2 where I work. The good news is the collections came through largely unscathed.

Sadly, the same can’t be said for the offices where we labor. Initially, the damage to the carpets and floors wasn’t considered to be that bad, but now it looks like some of the walls will need to be removed due to mold growth. The net effect is that my colleagues and I have been displaced to different floors in the library.

After making temporary camp on Level 4, I was installed in an old audio production studio in the maze-like depths of Level 3. When the library was initially built, Level 3 housed audio and video production studios for student and faculty use. Now that technology has moved on, the warren of offices has been re-purposed–which is good since that means there is room for our collections and equipment.

At this point, I’m living in relative comfort and patrons have even been able to locate my office without a spool of thread. The work on our former offices on Level  is not projected to be completed until the end of Spring 2018.

 

Essie Davis as Phryne Fisher in Miss Fisher Mysteries.

Miss Fisher Mysteries was an Australian murder mystery series set in 1920s Melbourne and featuring Essie Davis as Phryne Fisher, a private detective, and Nathan Page as Inspector Jack Robinson. The series ran for three seasons and has gradually built a fan base, both in its native Australia and abroad. What sets the series apart from other period mystery series is not just its unconventional heroine, but its social conscience. Again and again, Phyrne stands up for the outcast and downtrodden against not only society, but her own family.

When the series ended, there was talk of a potential movie and I happy to say that the film finally looks like it’s going to happen. The producers are running a Kickstarter campaign and of this writing they working towards their stretch goal of $500,000. Click here to make your pledge. Every dollar you contribute makes this movie bigger and better.

Spoiler alert: If you haven’t seen the Rocky Horror Picture Show (circa 1973), you may want to watch it before you read further as I will definitely be discussing plots points. Read on at your own risk.

 

I recently ran across two versions of that cult classic, The Rocky Horror Picture Show, that I thought I would share with you. The first is a “re-imagining” (you can say “re-make”, I know I do) of the film starring Laverne Cox as Dr. Frank N. Furter. As a transgender woman, Cox brings a refreshing, feminine energy to the part. If Tim Curry has the moves like Jagger, then Cox has the moves like James Brown and Tina Turner. The made-for-TV 2016 version is also tighter paced and emphasizes the rock ‘n roll roots of the original.

While there is no shortage of name talent in the show, I’d like to single out relative newcomer Staz Nair for his portrayal of Rocky. Although Nair has songs and some speaking lines, it’s his nonverbal body language and facial expressions that make the show. Nair invests Rocky with both great comic timing and a touching sensitivity.

The casting of Cox as a more feminine Frank does change the subtext of the story somewhat. In the original, the big reveal was straight-laced Brad’s latent homosexuality. In this new version, Janet’s dalliance with Cox and then with Rocky (the Creature) confirms her bi-sexuality. Frank’s jealous rage at Janet after her affair with Rocky has definite “lesbians in bondage” undertones.

In the 1973 film, Frank’s death at Riff-Raff’s hands is justified by Dr. Scott as protecting society–although what society is being protected from is never clear. Is it sex, drugs, and rock ‘n roll? Kids from Transylvania and their loud music? Fishnet stockings? In the 2016 version, Frank’s execution seems to be a reference to the high levels of violence directed against transgender men and women.

While the 1973 film is probably the version of Rocky Horror that most people are familiar with, the show was originally a stage production. As a theatrical show, it is still performed all around the world with many different actors assaying the role of Frank and the other characters.

The following (bless you, YouTube) is a 2015 London stage production of Rocky Horror done as a fundraiser for Amnesty International. Stephen Frye is one of the guest narrators as is the musical’s author/composer, Richard O’Brien.

If you’re familiar with Rocky Horror, you know that audience interaction is encouraged and that there are set things for the audience to call out at various points during the movie. In a live show that tradition continues and the audiences sometimes levels up by shouting out new things to the actors which occasionally plays havoc with their composure.

David Bedella plays Frank in this production and brings a wicked charm to the part that’s a lot of fun to watch. If you’re wondering (as I did) who Bedella is and why you haven’t heard of this awesome actor before, the short answer is that Bedella is an American making his name across the pond in the London musical scene. In 2004, he won an Olivier award (the British equivalent of the Tonys) for his role in Jerry Springer: The Opera. As he was filming this version of Rocky Horror, Bedella was also in rehearsals for In The Heights for which he won a second Olivier for Best Supporting Actor (2016).

Verdict: Watch both versions and enjoy!

 

Re: Despacito

I really don’t need any proof that I’m tragically un-hip, but if I did, it would be right here: I learned about the hottest Latin song sweeping the nation from the “Guardian” website. The song is “Despacito” (check it out below).

Luis Fonsi, who is Puerto Rican, translates the song’s lyrics from Spanish to English and talks about his inspiration for the song in the below article from “Huffington Post”:

http://www.huffingtonpost.com/entry/despacito-lyrics-english-translation_us_59272008e4b062f96a34f844

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