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Archive for October, 2015

Rome Cast List

Missing your daily dose of British actors, political intrigue, and full frontal nudity now that Game of Thrones is on hiatus again? Then check out Rome, a totally awesome series that aired on HBO from 2005-2007, available on DVD and instant video.

This series, set during the collapse of the Roman Republic and the rise of the Empire, follows both the highborn (Julius Caesar, Mark Anthony, etc.) and the lowborn (two rank and file soldiers, Titus Pullo and Lucius Vorenus) as they deal with their changing personal and political situations.

Season One opens with Caesar’s defeat of the Gauls and then segues into his civil war with Pompey for control of the Empire. Meanwhile, comrades-in-arms Titus Pullo and Lucius Vorenus find peacetime as dangerous as wartime. Season Two takes place after Caesar’s death and focuses on the power struggle between Anthony and Octavian. Pullo and Vorenus once again find themselves caught up in major events.

At the heart of the series is the relationship between two very different men–Pullo and Vorenus. Titus Pullo (Ray Stevenson) is a brawler whose hobbies are drinking, wenching, and finding trouble without really trying. Lucius Vorenus (Kevin McKidd) is his complete opposite–a straight arrow family man and good citizen.  As the story progresses, Vorenus’s rigid moral code ends up costing him his wife and family while Pullo discovers hidden depths of decency within himself. Throughout their personal ups and downs, the two men, initially rivals, come to depend on each other and eventually become best friends.

All of the leading actors (Ciaran Hinds as Julius Caesar, James Purefoy as Marc Anthony, etc.) give great performances, but for me the main stand out character was Atia of the Julii, Caesar’s niece, played by Polly Walker. Atia is a seductive manipulator who makes Cersei Lannister look like a Girl Scout den mother. She treats everyone including her own son and daughter as pawns on a chessboard in her quest for power and position. You start off hating her, but by the end of the series you can’t help but feeling a certain admiration and sympathy for her.

Another character who makes a mark on the viewer is Cleopatra played by Lyndsey Marshall. Cleopatra only appears four times in the entire two seasons, but Lyndsey Marshall makes them count, playing the Egyptian queen as a flirtatious, but intelligent political survivor who uses her personal charm to preserve her family and her country.

Of course, my very favorite character is the Newsreader, a sort of town crier who announces the latest events to the crowd in the Forum. He is played by veteran British character actor, Ian McNiece.

Because of its limited production budget, large scale, CGI-enhanced battles are mostly out of reach so the series creators’ cleverly present the aftermath of big events. For example, we aren’t shown Julius Caesar’s funeral scene. Instead, we cut to a scene of a shocked Brutus, now proclaimed a murderer by the mob, and a gloating Anthony. Likewise, we aren’t shown the Battle of Actium. Instead we catch up with the boat carrying Anthony and the survivors of his shattered army. In this manner, the series makes history we already know feel fresh and exciting.

Sadly, the wonderful soundtrack for this series is out of print. But to give you a taste, here’s Jeff Beals’ score for the opening credits:

 

 

 

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As I was driving in to work yesterday, I passed a grey Jeep that had the upper half of a zombie attached to its front bumper. Best. Halloween. Decoration. Ever.

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Death Ex Machina Cover

“A dead man fell from the sky and landed at my feet.”

–Opening line of The Pericles Commission

Mathmatician-turned-mystery writer Gary Corby has penned five, soon to be six, novels featuring the detective team of Diotima, priestess of Artemis, and Nicolaos, an inquiry agent for Pericles, the leading statesman of Athens. Set in Ancient Greece during the Athenian Golden Age, the novels are both intricate mysteries and an immersion course in Greek culture.

In The Pericles Commission, Nicolaos has a mystery fall at his feet–literally–when the corpse of Ephialtes, the founder of Athenian democracy, lands in front of him. Who would want to assassinate the man who created democracy? As it turns out, quite a few people including Nico’s new boss, Pericles. This book gets my vote for best opening line as quoted above.

The Ionia Sanction finds Nico and Diotima overseas in Ephesus and up against political intrigues in the Persian Empire as Nico investigates the death of one proxenos and the disappearance of another. A proxenos was a citizen of one town who represented the interests of another–kind of like the world’s first diplomatic corps.

Sacred Games

Sacred Games, one of my favorites, deals with murder at the 80th Olympic Games. Timodemus, the Athenian pankration (martial arts) champion, is accused of murdering Arakos, the Spartan pankration champion. With tensions rising between Athens and Sparta, can Nico and Diotima find the true killer before real war games break out?

The Marathon Conspiracy revolves around the events that precipitated the creation of the world’s first democracy. Roughly a generation before our story opens, Hippias, a cruel tyrant, had ruled Athens with an iron hand, turning the city into a police state. So onerous did his rule become that the Athenians deposed him and when Persia attempted to put him back on the throne, a small force of Greeks fought and defeated a much larger Persian army at the Battle of Marathon. Fast forward thirty years later. A pair of girls at the Temple of Artemis, the first finishing school for girls,  find a skeleton and a set of scrolls in a cave. Soon after, one girl disappears and the other is found dead. Who would kill for thirty-year-old scrolls? Can Diotima and Nico unravel the mystery at her old school before more deaths occur? A special note: Nico and Diotima finally tie the knot.

Death Ex Machina is the latest entry in this series. Nico and Diotima are asked to investigate the case of a ghost who is haunting the Theater of Dionysos. But what begins as a series of pranks becomes much more serious when one of the actors is found hanging from the God machine. A great send up of the acting/theater scene as well as being a look at the status of metics (non-citizens) in  Athens.

I highly recommend these books and I look forward to Nico and Diotima’s next adventure.

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In my last post, I talked about the effects of war on Frank and Claire. In this one, I’m focusing on two characters who at first glance seem to be completely dissimilar–Jamie Fraser and Jack Randall.

In spite of their obvious differences, Jamie and Jack do have certain things in common. Both men come from lower rank aristocratic families, both are second sons, not expected to inherit, and both men have their lives changed by war.

It’s interesting to speculate about the fate of these two characters if the second Jacobite Uprising hadn’t happened. Jamie’s path seems clear. He would have inherited Lallybroch, married a nice girl, brought up a pack of kids, taken care of his tenants, worked the land, and otherwise lived the life of a Scottish noble.

Jack’s alternate path is less clear, in part because we know less about his early life. He might have still purchased a commission and gone into the military, but would he have stayed in or would he have been court martialed by now, perhaps ending his days as a mercenary or a “remittance man”–an embarassing relative who receives a stipend or remittance from his family on the condition that he go abroad and stay there? Hard to say.

Outlander 2014

In Jamie’s case, it’s easy to see what radicalized him and lead him to become a professional soldier and a revolutionary. That reason can be summed up in three words: Jonathan Wolverton Randall. Randall’s requisitioning vist to Lallybroch–nothing like government-approved looting to make the populace love you–ends with him flogging Jamie, attempting rape Jamie’s sister, Jenny, and having Jamie thrown into prison on trumped up charges.

Randall follows this up with even more conduct unbecoming an officer and a gentlemen. He propositions Jamie and, when Jamie refuses, has him flogged again, a flogging so protracted (and so clearly unnecessary) that one of his own men faints and the entire audience of townspeople is reduced to tears. Jamie escapes from prison and fights as a mercenary in France before returning to Scotland to clear his name which is when we meet him.

Let’s back up for a moment now and consider the man who gave his name to sadism–the Marquis de Sade himself. Today, the Marquis has undergone something of a rehabilitation–people think of him as a free-love libertine who enjoyed a little naughty mutual spanking with his fellow aristos. It’s more accurate to view him as what he was–a hardcore sexual predator who preyed upon the weak and the powerless (servants, beggars, prostitutes), never on his social equals. Even for 18th century France, his behavior was considered beyond the pale and he spent most of his life in various insane asylums.

The open question about Jack is was he always a sadist or–and this is the more frightening option–was he a regular guy who became a sadist because of his experiences in the military? The Marquis de Sade attributed his love of pain to the beatings that he received at boarding school. Did something similar happen to Jack?

Jack Shaving Corporal Hawkins

It’s easy to see why a military career would appeal to someone with Jack’s sadistic tendencies. Not only are there civilians to terrorize and prisoners to torment, it’s also easy to make the lives of the men you command a living hell and do it all under the guise of discipline as we see when he pins down his terrified aide-de-camp and comes within a hair of cutting the corporal’s throat.

The only moment that Jack appears halfway sympathetic is when he bursts in on the commanding officers’ dinner in “The Garrison Commander”. For about five seconds, we get to see him in a positive light–a competent mid-ranking officer, fresh from the trenches, dust of the road still on him, plagued with idiot superiors. Jack treats said superiors with barely concealed contempt and he’s right–they are a contemptible lot. Lord Thomas and the rest are a bunch of entitled good old boys, too busy throwing fancy dinner parties and sneering at the Scottish savages to get the job done. It’s up to the lower rank field officers–Captain Randall and Lt. Foster– to keep order and enforce the King’s Peace.

This illusion of competence doesn’t last long. Just a few scenes later, listening to Jack tell Claire about Jamie’s flogging, you get the sense that this man’s mind is unraveling. Are his commanding officers really blind to the fact that Jack is no longer fit for duty? Are they so short-handed that they can’t afford to ship Jack back home or has he made himself so disliked that they keep sending him out on patrol again and again in hopes that he’ll get himself killed?

 

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