Robin Hood & History

One of my favorite movies growing up was Robin Hood.  It was the Disney version, the one with the Animal kingdom playing out the roles.  According to the story, Robin Hood (a fox) stole from the rich and gave to the poor because Prince John (a Lion, sans mane) was overtaxing the population of Nottinghamshire while ruling for his brother King Richard (a Lion, with a mane).  It’s the basic story behind most Robin Hood movies.

The interesting thing about Robin Hood is it’s both fiction and non-fiction.  It’s a mix of characters who are fictional and characters who were based on real people.  As I grew up, and started to be interested in the back story I found out that some of the stories are more interesting outside the myth.

For example, Prince John.  In Disney’s version of the tale, he’s a laughable villain.  He sucks his thumb and cries for Mommy and is made fun of for that fact.  He’s not even depicted as a fully grown lion, and his crown doesn’t fit his head.  His assistant, Sir HIss, puts up with a lot of abuse in the sake of comedy and somehow remains sane enough to advise his King to make better life decisions.

In reality, Prince John was an actual King, and one fairly important to history.  He was born in 1166, the younger brother of Richard I, or Richard the lion-hearted.  So in that, Robin Hood gets it right.  Richard left for the crusades, and the then Prince John ruled as regent in his stead.  He became King himself in 1199, and ruled for 17 years till his death in 1216.

John was born the sixth son of King Henry II. He was one of 10 children, and a member of the House of Plantagenet.  He is the third of Henry’s sons to be King.  The eldest was Henry, who became co-regent with his father at least in name if not in power. He died in 1183, outlived by his father.  After Henry the II died six years later, RIchard the I became King.  He is known most for being a part of the Crusades, which took up much of his reign.

John himself was regent, although not particularly because RIchard wanted him too.  So in a sense, the movie had that right too.

However, the movie ends with Richard coming back, and reclaiming the throne and punishing his brother.  However, Richard died after only 10 years on the throne, and with no heirs, it left John and his nephew Arthur.

John, being ambitious as history (and Disney) show became King. He became an important part of history because his son Henry III would be the first Plantagenet King and that would lead to the war of the Roses 300 years later.  He also changed English politics forever with the signing of the Magna Carta, which not only started the government transitioning into his modern form, it is also a major influence on the designers of the American Government that would develop 600 years later.  He was also known for taking a more personal involvement in the administration of the country, some positive some negative.  Some of which influenced the portrayal of Prince John the villain.  For example the over taxation occurred during his reign as King.

With the kings of England in the middle ages, its hard to know what was accurate and what was propaganda from a rival.  For example, many people get their idea of these kings from William Shakespeare’s plays (which have inaccuracies and were obviously tailored to suit his Queen) or other items of fiction.  King/Prince John is certainly not the only world leader to have that happen to him.  HIs great-great-grandson (etc)  Richard III was certianly given a reputation by literature and the Tudors.

It just brings me to my younger self who thought the story ended with that “no-good Prince John” being punished for his maltreatment of Nottingham. It was really only half the story and I’m glad I learned to love history and delve deeper into the world Robin Hood is based in.

One day I may go into more research and in-depth about King John.  For now, I’m going to go watch Robin Hood and tell Sir Hiss to get a new job.

Accuracy or Story, That is the question

Recently I have been watching quite a few period pieces.  Some were complete fiction, others based on true events or actual people.  And its made me ponder the thin line between entertainment and bad accuracy.

There is of course a balance one must keep when doing a period piece.  The story has to be interesting, engaging, with the ups and downs that keep an audience enthralled.  Yet, at the same time, people like myself like to see historically accurate stories.

For some this is relatively easy, especially those that took place in recent years.  For example, Apollo 13 (1994) which is based on a real-life event that took place in April of 1970.  It’s not only one of my favorite films, but it is also one of the films I’ve seen a very real effort to keep things as real as possible without losing the entertainment value.  So while it’s not word-for-word, and they added a few dramatic arguments (after all, the events took place over a week and they have to pack that all into 2 hours), it’s still fairly accurate.  They even went as far as filming scenes in low gravity to make more realistic movement for the space scenes.

Another example is The White Queen (2013).  Now this film takes place in the 15th century during the war of the roses.  And it tends to go more towards creating a good story than depicting the actual events.  Not that I still didn’t enjoy it, but there were some things that happened in the mini-series a quick google search or a Wikipedia search could tell you happened differently.  And since my knowledge is not high on English history as much as it is American history I’m sure there were other moments that would drive my friends who are crazy.  Of course, it’s harder to be as specifically accurate when there is about 500 years and a lack of photographic evidence to really examine.  Facts from this period of time are constantly being reevaluated as new sources of information are found, or someone notices something in what has already been found no one really took note of before.  But there are some general facts to get straight.

I enjoyed the series, but mostly because of the cast, who did a brilliant job in making me not care that not all the facts were right.

So I suppose the question is – when you watch a film, mini-series or TV series based in a specific era, about real people, do you want more accuracy or more story telling?  Would inaccuracies done to make things easier to understand to a chosen demographic make you less willing to watch (for example, the costuming decisions in CW’s Reign)?

What’s your opinion?

Apollo 13 – Film and History

I wrote this yesterday with the intent of posting it, but various life things happened that means it gets pushed off till today.  So here’s the belated Article:

As I have stated in several posts, my favorite movie is Apollo 13. It is the dramatization of the real life story of the Apollo 13 Lunar mission that went horribly wrong in April of 1970.  Today while reading my email, I got a list of today’s historical events, and it reminded me that today in 1970, they finally made it back to earth.  So I decided to write about the Apollo 13 mission and the movie in general.

The movie is mostly accurate, with a few details changed for dramatic (well, movie dramatic) effect.  However, the writers and producers of the film were interested in making it as close as possible. After all, sitting in a space ship hoping you’d get home after the oxygen tank explodes is a pretty interesting story.

Apollo 13 was the 8th manned mission in the Apollo series.  Apollo 1 had ended tragically in 1967.   It took a two year review, and several changes to the Apollo spacecraft before they were manned again.  Apollo missions 2-6 were unmanned tests of the spacecraft, after it had been decided that the Apollo 1 identity would not be moved to the new mission.  Therefore, the first Apollo mission that was manned and made it to space was Apollo 7, which orbited the earth.  Apollo 8 went a step further and orbited the moon itself.  This mission also had James Lovell involved, who was also involved in 13.  Apollo 9 and 10 practiced lunar landing procedures.  And Apollo 11, which is perhaps the most famous of American space flights, took us to the Moon.

Apollo 13 took off on April 11, 1970, a little over 3 years after Apollo 1, and only 9 months after Apollo 11.  It was manned by James Lovell (Commander), Jack Swigert (Command Module Pilot) and Fred Haise (Lunar Module Pilot).  The Apollo capsule was only large enough to fit three men, unlike the later Space Shuttle craft.  Through a small connecting tunnel, they connected to the Lunar Module (also known as the LEM – Lunar Excursion Module) which would become the life raft that kept these three men alive during the four days it took to get home.

On April 13, 1970 shortly after recording a television transmission the three astronauts felt a jolt and soon realised that their spacecraft was venting out into space.  I’ve included a link below to the wikipedia page, where there is a audio recording of the famous “houston we have a problem” report.   What had occured is when Jack Swigert went to do a routine stirring of the tanks to keep the liquid fuel/oxygen from freezing, the temperture gauge in the oxygen tank was broken.  It overheated the tank, and the tank exploded.  This was due to a issue that developed during pre-launch checks which was not realised until after a review board looked at all the evidence.

They spent the next four days in the LEM, using the oxygen tanks and fuel tanks that would have sent them to the moon to keep themselves alive and target their way back home.  This had been a contingenoucy plan developed previously but this was the first time it was ever attempted, and various problems surfaced during the four days that the astronauts and the men in Mission control had to solve.

The film dramatizes some of it, changing up some of the words said by the astronauts and introducing a few scenes that were never documented by anyone to fill out some of the characters reactions.  But overall the film is fairly accurate for a biopic.  They even used archive footage of a launch to use with CGI to create the launch scene in the movie, and used actually low gravity in some of the scenes where you see them float for more of a real effect.   So while its definately a movie, not a documentary, it is pretty well done.

The film was nominated for Best Picture in 1994, but lost to Braveheart.  It did win Best Editing, and Best Sound.  It is one of my favorite movies still, over 20 years after it was released.  You can stream it on Amazon, it is available for both purchase and rental.  It used to be on Hulu but right now I can’t find it to confirm.

The film was based on James Lovell’s novel called Lost Moon which was renamed Apollo 13 when the film came out.  It’s a great read as well, especially if you are interested about the space program.  It not only covers the Apollo 13 mission, but Lovell’s earlier missions and interactions with other astronauts.

I also recommend the Tom Hanks mini-series From the Earth to the Moon.  It is a great dramatization of the real events of the Space Program and also has some great actors in it.

Apollo 13 Wikipedia

Apollo 13 – NASA Website

Apollo 13 Film Wikipedia

To The Earth From The Moon


Movie Review: Pacific Rim

Title: Pacific Rim

Release Date:  2013

Directed by:  Guillermo del Toro

Written by:  Guillermo del Toro, Travis Beacham

Starring:  Charlie Hunnam, Diego Klattenhoff, Idris Elba, Rinko Kikuchi, Charlie Day, Burn Gorman and Max Martini (among many others)

My Grade: A-

This movie was recommended to me by several people as a good movie.  I’m actually writing this part before I watch it, hence the weird tenses compared to what I will write after I watch it.  Supposedly this movie has good gender dynamics, as well as a diverse cast and a good story.  I’m hoping to find all of that.  Although I must admit by looking at the casting list on IMDB, its looking fairly non-diverse, particularly on Gender.  SO far I’m only seeing 8 female actors mostly in minor character parts, unless someone has a gender neutral name and no picture.  Only two actually seem to have named parts.  But we shall see.  IMDB can be a bit deceiving at times.

On the bright side, it also has IDris Elba and Ron Perlman who are always worth seeing.  Now onto watching the movie (A DVD.  Alas, no blu-ray yet.)

(…intermission music…)

So in the end, I really enjoyed it.  The lighting was dark in some areas, which might have been my TV set, but it made it hard to really see what the Kaiju looked like.  However the concept was pretty good.  The basic backstory of the movie is that along the Pacific Rim (also known as the Ring of Fire due to the tectonic plate activity) there opens up a breach between two dimensions.  Ours, and that of the Kaiju.  They start attacking us and in an attempt to fight them off we decide to build giant robots.  Only it doesn’t always work, because if it did we wouldn’t have a movie.

Charlie Hunnam plays the main character, Raleigh Becket, who is a Jaeger (the robot) pilot.  The robots need 2 pilots and he used to pilot with his brother but his brother died and he ended up in Alaska building a wall.  Idris Alba plays the head dude of the Jager program Pentecost and basically drags Raleigh back to the robots in a last ditch effort to save the program.

Rinko Kikuchi plays the female lead (and sadly only one of two named female characters, all other female characters are background and barely have lines if any at all) Mako Mori.  She is Pentecost’s adoptive daughter and the person Raleigh decides should be his new partner.

Charlie Day – who I spent half the movie calling Sam Rockwell Jr – plays  Newton Geiszler, a biologist who works on understanding the Kaiju.  He is accompanied by Burn Gorman, who plays Hermann Gottlieb who is basically a Nerdy Owen Harper who managed to retain the anger.

Ron Perlman plays a Blackmarket dealer who basically profits off the corpses of Kaiju.

The cast was fantastic, and I really liked the fact that they made a point to incorporate different nationalities into the story.  Not all of the characters are American – actually most of them aren’t.  It didn’t shy away from having characters speak in accents or their native languages.  They choose actual asian/asian decent actors to play asian characters for the most part which is sadly not always the case in Hollywood.

The story was pretty good as well, though I wish there had been more time with the various Jaeger pilots other than Raleigh, Mako and Chuck.  There is so much to this world unexplored, which should be interesting to see when the sequel comes out.  Perhaps we can get more exploration of the Alternate universe Pacific Rim created.

So essentially my only issue with this movie that I can think of while writing this review is the lack of female characters outside the leads.


Film Review: GhostBusters (2016)

A long time ago, I believe I watched the original Ghostbusters film, but to be honest it has been so long ago that I barely remembered it. Going into watching this version of the story I was wondering if it was going to be a different verse, or a continuation or otherwise how it would relate to the original.  The answer was its a whole different universe from the originals, but the actors who were in the original who were still living all make some brief appearances in the film.

I found it hilarious at times, and some random actors showed up that I wasn’t expecting like CHarles Dance (aka Tywin Lannister) and Ed Begley jr who plays another Ed Jr..  Chris Hemsworth’s Kevin was also a hilarious take on the dumb secretary trope.  The cast as a whole was excellent, and the cameos of the original actors were interesting. The longest appearance was by Bill Murray who plays a critic of the ghostbusters who thinks they are making it all up.

For the most part I enjoyed it, though there were one or two times a joke went on too long, and the credits were over done a little.   Also the theme music appeared more in the trailer then perhaps it did in the actual movie.  The soundtrack in general was a little less then what I was expecting.

Considering one of the larger complains I heard prior to watching was that the cast was all female, I don’t think gender had an any effect on the quality of this film.  The cast did an excellent job

So my grade for this movie is a B+.  I’m definately planning on adding it to my collection at some point and I do hope that they get the sequel that they wanted.

Movie Review: Suicide Squad

So my friends and I got together last week and ended up watching two movies, Suicide Squad and Ghostbusters.  I’ll be reviewing Ghostbusters in my next post.  Obviously I’m late the reviewing of these two, having gotten them as rentals rather then seen in the theater, but they are new to me, so I figured it counted.

Suicide Squad is a DC Comics based film.  The premise is that Amanda Walker puts together a band of villains to save the country.  It both turns out well and very much not well at the same time.  None of the villains are there by choice, but rather leverage Walker has.  They barely tolerate one another.  However they are bonded in their dislike of Walker and Flagg, the only non-villain on the team.  However, when The Enchantress betrays Flagg and Walker, they find themselves on the same side.  Of sorts.

I went into watching this film with no real comic book know how.  My only prior exposure to Suicide Squad is through Smallville which had Flagg, Deadshot and that’s pretty much it as far as characters that appear in this movie.  Completely different as well from what appeared in this movie.  I was also somewhat familar with Harley Quinn just from having a bunch of comic book fans as best friends.

Overall the movie was alright, although I suspect it is better if you are a comic book fan and have the sentimentality towards various characters.  The only real issue I had was the abundance of the Joker who basic plot had no real need to be in the movie.  And he’s probably my least favorite version of the character.  I saw why they had him in there, in Harley’s backstory, but his continual presence seemed like they had actual footage so why not use it rather than something necessary.

Some of the CGI seemed a little awkward at parts yet great in others.

I’m going to give this film a B-.  Talented cast, but more of a film if you actually had a interest in DC comics before this.


Movie Review: Rogue One

So shortly before New Years, I decided to venture alone to the movie theater to take in Rogue One, afraid it would disappear from the local theater if I waited much longer (apparently its scheduled for a few weeks so I was not in any danger of missing it).  I don’t usually like going to the movies by myself, preferring to have the company of friends to discuss the movie afterwards.  But none of that has to do with this review.

Rogue One was good.  It did as it said and was a single entity film, there were no openings for a sequel, as it ends almost exactly where A New Hope Begins.  While a few of the characters from the main episodes appear, the main plot had nothing to do with them.  Even Vader stays mostly out-of-the-way.  (although there is a scene where we see Vader’s house.  It made me laugh, although I don’t think that was the intent.)

Rogue One continues Star War’s tradition of women getting things done.  In this case its Jyn Erso, a woman who had her parents taken from her as a young girl by the Empire.  Her mother was killed, her father was an engineer they needed.  However she goes on a mission to help the Rebellion, mostly to try to find her father who she has not seen in 15 years.  She is joined by an odd group of rebels, including a new Droid I wish we could see more of .

While I feel at times the pace of the story was a bit quick, the editing was good and the writing was also good.  It also included archive footage from scenes filmed but cut from A New Hope to add to the film, which were remarkably well-integrated into the film.

Also we get to see some of the characters we love from the Prequels and the Original Trilogy interacting.  Jimmy Smits for example returns for a few scenes as Leia’s adoptive father Bail Organa.  And we also see Mon Mothma Pre-ROTJ trying to get everyone in a room to talk plans and wishing she had some Advil.

I will say this: This does not have a happy ending, so be prepared.  It does have one of my favorite end scenes a few minutes before the actual ending of the movie. It was beautifully edited and filmed.

I will also say this:  I was happy to see the romance played down in this.  It is clear that there is something there for those who want to find something, but these people are in the middle of a battle and the “romance” doesn’t get in the way of that.  It’s all very subtle and can be easily pushed aside if you don’t care for romance plots.   I was afraid going in that they would be pushing some sort of romance, diminishing from what the main characters were doing because they got distracted with said romance.

Final Grade:  A