Tag: Greek

Flash Fiction: Gods and Robbers

Courtesy Wallpaperswide.com

Chuck’s weekly demand this time is to include four random items. Can you spot them all?


They dragged him into the office by his arms. His legs felt weak; there was no way they could support his weight with them yanking him along. He was tossed onto the carpet like a sack of garbage. He found himself looking at the skull of what some might have considered a large lizard, but he recognized as a small dragon. It had been re-purposed to serve as the base of an umbrella stand.

“We found him, Father,” said one of the twins.

“He thought to hide from you among the mortal officers of the law.” The other twin tossed the badge onto the expansive desk that blocked most of his view. He struggled to look up, fighting down waves of pain. He got a kick in the kidneys for his trouble.

“Castor, Pollux, I’m surprised at you.” The voice from behind the desk was deep, grandfatherly, almost kind; yet in it was the rumble, the muted flash, the sense one gets when a storm is blowing in. “This is my guest, not some common churl. Get him in a chair, for Gaea’s sake. And clean up his face. I won’t have him ruining my carpet.”

The twins obeyed, hauling him into one of the chairs facing the desk. A wet rag all but smashed into his face, and as the blood was wiped away, he tried to will his bleeding to stop. Whatever charm they’d used to stunt his powers, it seemed to have faded, as his head cleared immediately. He blinked, and looked up to face the man he’d been dragged to see.

Behind the chess board on the desk sat what appeared to be an elderly man with broad shoulders and the solid build of someone who’d spent a lifetime perfecting his physical form. His suit was tailored, hand-made, and clearly costly. His white hair was long, and his beard was somewhat fluffy. Had the suit been red, one might mistake him for Santa Claus.

“Now, Prometheus. What would possess you to put on the airs of a policeman? In the game of ‘Cops and Robbers’, would I not be the cop?”

“It let me get close to one of Chronos’ servants. I was trying to help…”

Pollux backhanded Prometheus. “No lies before the mighty Zeus!”

“Pollux, please! Castor, look after your brother.” Zeus reached down and plucked the bishop from his side of the board, examining it. “Prometheus, you and I have had our differences. I’m still not certain how you escaped your prison in the first place. But we both know that my word is law. And that law cannot be countermanded, not by the cleverness of any being, mortal or Titan.”

“I could be back on that mountain now, if you willed it.”

“Perhaps.”

“Then why am I here?”

Zeus smiled, and replaced the chess piece. “I’m curious more than I am angry. How did you escape, and why?”

“The how doesn’t matter. The why does. I told you: I can help you fight Chronos and the other Titans. Time is against us. You should hear what I have to say.”
Zeus raised an eyebrow. Thunder rolled in the distance. “Have a care, Titan. I am not so curious that I am willing to permit you to command me. Begin at the beginning. How did you escape?”

“I made a deal with the eagle.”

Zeus laughed. “A deal? What could you possibly offer it that was not the liver of an immortal?”

“I told it about America. I told it that it was a sacred animal there. It, too, could be truly immortal, and not simply tasked with devouring me. I said, ‘If you free me, I will take you there, and you will be adored and loved.’ It took a few days… and a few livers… but it believed me.”

Promet heus tried not to blanch at the memories. Centuries, millenia had gone by, and every day, atop that lonely mountain that killed any mortal that attempted its summit, the eagle tore him open and made him feel every snapping sinew and every bite at his innards until death came like a merciful, dreamless, abyssal sleep. He’d long stopped cursing his fate each time he awoke, and it was only through the tiny fraction of power he’d had left that he was able to learn of the far-off land the eagle wished to see.

“Where is it now?”

“A zoo, in Chicago.”

“Hah! Duplicity worthy of any of my children. Even as a fugitive you do not disappoint.”

Prometheus nodded. “I am happy to have amused you, my Lord.”

Zeus waved his hand. “Pshaw. I have Wingus and Dingus here to kowtow to me. You, however, never bowed. You defied me, and not from jealousy or fear or anger. You defied me to do what you felt was right. Defiance had to be punished, but I always respected what you did.”

Prometheus blinked. The admission felt earnest, but oddly timed. It slowly dawned on Prometheus that he was right, and Zeus knew it. Chronos and the other Titans were growing stronger, and time was getting shorter. Slowly, so as not to antagonize the twins, Prometheus reached into his pocket, produced the sealed envelope, and handed it to Zeus.

“This is why I escaped.”

Zeus looked at it. On it was written a single word. Hera.

After a moment, the King of the Gods opened the envelope. He read the letter within. Twice. When he looked up at the twins, his eyes were alight with the fire of the sky, the lightning that was his herald and his wrath.

“Leave us. Prometheus and I must speak alone.”

The twins bowed and retreated. Zeus set down the letter, glared at Prometheus for a long moment, and reached across the chess board to reset it. He moved his white king’s pawn forward two squares, gesturing at Prometheus.

“Tell me how this treachery began.”

Prometheus, in spite of the pain, smiled. He moved his queen’s pawn forward.

Movie Review: Immortals

Every once in a while, I’m made aware of an opportunity that makes me feel like an actual professional critic. Much like Salt, my bros of the taped glasses over at Geekadelphia hooked me up with passes to see Immortals last night before its release to the general public. Considering my tendencies towards breathing new life into old myths, I was excited. While the trailers pretty much sold the film as a re-dressed 300, I was curious to see what director Tarsem Singh Dhandwar did with some of the oldest storytelling material in the world.

Courtesy Relativity Media

Our story revolves around Theseus, humble son of a dispossessed woman in a Hellenic village by the sea where he trains as a warrior to protect her. He doesn’t have much faith in the gods, even as they look down from Olympus on mankind while under strict laws from Zeus not to directly intervene. Indirect intervention is fine, but doing too much in a godly fashion would threaten to rob humans of their free will. There is only one circumstance in which this law is to be broken: if the Titans, sworn enemies of the Olympian gods imprisoned in Tartarus, are ever released. That is the plan of Hyperion, diabolical king at the head of the vicious Heraklion army, who would see the gods slain and he as the sole ruler of humanity… but not if Theseus has anything to say about it.

Tarsem Singh Dhandwar’s first film was The Cell, a crime drama from 2000 that is remembered far more for its unique visual style than any of the story or actors involved. Many of his images, while surreal and otherworldly, were shot so cleanly and with such aplomb and definition that they could be framed and considered works of art in and of themselves. So it is with Immortals, only this time around, the works of art are in motion more often than not.

Courtesy Relativity Media
Seriously, if you were going to live forever, wouldn’t you want to look this good?

It’s the decisions the director makes that stand out in the film. For one thing, instead of the usual stable of established, operatic actors, the Olympian gods are played by beautiful young people in peak physical shape, and the gentlemen especially are dressed in minimalist costumes to show this off. This lends itself well to the depictions we see in Greek sculpture and art: bearded as they often are, the Greeks were not shy about their bodies. Nor is Immortals shy when it comes to violence, but again the director sets himself apart. It is only when we see these golden gods in action that the slow motion so familiar to fans of 300 and other movies of its ilk comes into play. Violence at the hands of humans is not dressed up in fancy camera work or tricks of post-production other than ribbons of blood and thrusting spear-points; rather, it’s presented with visceral intensity and earnestness that definitely demands attention.

As for the story itself, we have something of a mixed bag. Reinterpretations of Greek myth are certainly nothing new, and the writers of Immortals do make a few interesting decisions, such as keeping the war between the Olympian gods and the Titans on a human scale and the things done with Theseus’ battle with the “Minotaur.” And there was one bit in the plot that I honestly didn’t see coming. The script, however, is far more inconsistent than the quality of the visuals. There were a few points in the plot where I had unanswered questions or sensed a bit of a hole, while at others I felt the characters could have used less talking and more showing through action and expression. Hyperion especially stood out to me as something of a problem, despite Oscar-winner Mickey Rourke giving him an imposing physical presence.

Courtesy Relativity Media
It’s a dumb pun, but it works: Cavill looked pretty super even if his performance wasn’t.

This is not to say the acting was terrible; I’d say it was about average for material such as this. I’m not sure why Mickey Rourke spends half his time seeming so bored with the goings-on, but I’m willing to chalk that up to the script having Hyperion all but bellow “I AM A BAD GUY AND I WILL DO BAD GUY STUFF NOW”. Henry Cavill as Theseus is perfectly passable and Freida Pinto as the Oracle does all right, but I felt their little romance sub-plot was a little rushed. The Olympians, Luke Evans and Isabela Lucas in particular, brought a measure of humanity to their characters and presented their godliness with sufficient gravitas, so I guess I can’t complain too much about this part of the film. They struggle to elevate the mediocre script and never overshadow the visuals with scenery-chewing or laughable execution.

While certainly not a perfect movie, Immortals delivers an experience that’s enjoyable and engaging without feeling pandering or terribly rushed. The clean, smart direction and bold, lush visuals go a long way to get the audience past any narrative issues that crop up over the course of the film. At no point did I feel confused as to what was going on, as can be the case in some other action flicks, and it never felt like the movie was talking down to me. A little more polish on the script and more solid performances from some of the cast would have made the movie truly fantastic instead of merely impressive. But if the only real complaint I can make about Immortals is “there wasn’t enough of it”, I guess you can take that as a recommendation.

Stuff I Liked: For all the negativity out there regarding 3D, this movie did it just about perfectly. Gods played by young, beautiful people instead of well-established, older actors. No technology that felt overtly anachronistic.
Stuff I Didn’t Like: A little sloppiness in the plotting and screenwriting. Mickey Rourke looking bored more than anything else. Other actors not quite selling the melodrama. Only faltering attempts at scale in terms of size and distance. The romance sub-plot moves a bit too quickly.
Stuff I Loved: The stunning visuals, the very canny use of some of the action tropes that drew in the 300 crowd, extremely well-shot action and a Greek myth that feels as lurid, sensual and bombastic as a Greek myth should.

Bottom Line: The very clever and skilled direction of Immortals lifts it just far enough out of mediocrity for me to give it a recommendation. It won’t win any prizes or hearts for its script or acting, but its blend of unique original flair and old-school Greek mythology does delight the eyes and get the blood pumping. A solid, above-average period action flick.

IT CAME FROM NETFLIX! Percy Jackson & the Olympians: The Lightning Thief

Original Text:
[spoiler]

Logo courtesy Netflix.  No logos were harmed in the creation of this banner.

Joseph Campbell is famous for basically saying that all storytellers are essentially telling the same story. Be it a myth based on the perceptions of the ancient Norse of their weather patterns or the all-caps melodrama and bright, splashy colors of a comic book by Stan Lee and Jack Kirby, our stories are a way of exploring ourselves and the world around us. Sometimes, the old stories are reimagined and transitioned into new forms that appeal to the altered sensibilities of modern audiences. Sometimes this works; other times, it doesn’t. Not every middle schooler is going to have a nascent interest in the mythology of ancient Greece, so author Rick Riordan took it upon himself to set those stories in the foundations of those tumultuous schoolyards, giving us Percy Jackson & the Olympians. The first volume of this chronicle, The Lightning Thief, got the major motion picture from Hollywood treatment.

And by ‘treatment’, I mean the potential for storytelling that’s worth a damn got tied to a chair and worked over with a baseball bat.

Our titular character is a struggling middle-school student with apparent dyslexia and ADHD. His mother is married to a complete and utter douchebag while his birth father scampered off while Percy was still a newborn. His best friend, Grover, walks with crutches and has a penchant for cracking wise that works really hard to put Chris Tucker to shame. A visit to the local museum and a lecture by his wheelchair-bound Latin teacher begins to reveal some truths to Percy: his dyslexia is due to his brain being hard-wired to read ancient Greek, mythological creatures want him dead, his best friend is a satyr and his teacher’s a centaur. Oh, and he’s the son of Poseidon, Greek god of the sea. He must undertake a quest to return the lightning bolt of Zeus lest the king of the gods starts a massive war over its theft. Why Zeus would leave his trademark weapon which also happens to be the Olympian equivelant of a tactical nuclear strike laying around unattended is one of the many, many unanswered questions brought up in the course of this plot. Odin had a damn treasure vault for stuff like this, and Zeus couldn’t even slap a “No Touchie” magical whammy on the thing? But let’s move on. I don’t want to spend my entire rage quotient in the second major paragraph.

Having never read this series of books, I can’t comment on how well the narrative of the novel transitioned into the screenplay. What I can comment on is a visible shift in style and pacing by director Chris Columbus. This is a man best known for his light-hearted, kid-oriented films such as Home Alone, Mrs. Doubtfire and Harry Potter and the Philosopher’s Stone. The Lightning Thief feels a bit like an act of teenage rebellion against those more childish forays into filmmaking. While once we might have spent more time with Percy at home or school learning about what makes him tick and how he deals with the challenges of his young life, we’re thrust into the action almost immediately and given very little time for exposition.

This is both a good thing and a bad one. Exposition, after all, is difficult to get right and more often than not becomes an anchor welded around the ankle of the story, dragging the audience into the cloying darkness of boredom. However, without even passing attempts at exposition the story is left adrift, batted without foundation between one event and the next with nary a thing to connect them. Percy’s got a quest for a series of magical MacGuffins and an incidental need to rescue his mother to keep things going, but these elements have their own problems, seperate from those plauging the rest of the film.

It would be one thing if the MacGuffins were tied one to the other by clues that needed to be investigated on the scene where each is found. Instead our heroes have a magical map that just tells them where to go. Cuts down on stuff like intellectual curiosity and character building, sure, but who needs that stuff when you have mythological creatures to battle with swords? As for Percy’s mom, her character is also given something of the short end of the stick, and while most people would be genuinely concerned with a parent’s sudden death or disappearance, Percy reacts to the incident with a bit of dull surprise, quickly lost when he spots the girl. Because, you know, hormones are a much better motivator for moving a story along than concern for a loved one.

Without decent motivation or characterization for our hero, all we have left is action and spectacle. Again, the film falls short of delivering these elements without making things either bleedingly obvious or unnecessesarily dense. Instead of discovering the ways and means of his water-based demi-god powers, Percy has to be ham-handedly told how they work. Our heroes get out of their first two major scrapes thanks to everybody in the world having seen Clash of the Titans at some point, without explaining this point in-universe. The intrepid band spends five days in a pleasure palace before Percy’s dad calls him up on the Olympin telepathiphone to inform him of the fact that they’re farting around in a pleasure palace. And this says nothing about the aforementioned girl, supposedly the daughter of the goddess of wisdom and battle strategy, not employing the most practical and straightforward means of ending confrontations possible. Sure, it’s in keeping with traditions to train with swords and bows and whatnot, but just think how many of these encounters Annabeth could have resolved more quickly, directly and painlessly with the implementation and distribution of fucking guns.

Let’s see, what else is wrong with this flick? Grover’s irritating from start to finish, the only character who has interesting motivations and character beats in the slightest gets maybe five minutes of screen time, there’s no real tension and any attempt the story makes at trying to be more than a pandering and predictable distraction for middle schoolers just trying to make out in the back of the theater is slapped down in favor of more of that blunt telling over showing bullshit I’ve harped about for the last three minutes. Given my personal interest in stories like this reworked into other settings and genres to prove their viability and longevity, I wanted to like The Lightning Thief, but the more I watched the angrier I got. No amount of Sean Bean or Kevin McKidd can save this flick. Harry Potter does a much better job of giving us relatable adolescent characters in a fantasy setting, and cribbing notes from Clash of the Titans made me yearn for the early 80s schlock of that original film and wonder about how bad the new version is. I guess I’ll find out next week. For now, skip Percy Jackson. Give the books a try if you’re part of the target demographic, but if you’ve already read Harry Potter and aren’t frothing at the mouth for more of the same, I doubt you’re missing much. Find Madeline l’Engle’s A Wrinkle in Time or T.H. White’s The Once and Future King instead. They’re classics, they’re poignant, and you don’t have the token black character weighing the whole thing down with his attempts at being both the ethnic wisecracking sidekick and the Magical Negro. But at least you can make a fun drinking game out of every moment the so-called heroes of The Lightning Thief just get a solution handed to them and don’t have to think for themselves, much like the audience.

Wait. Scratch that. I don’t want to be responsible for any of you dying from alcohol poisoning.[/spoiler]

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