Monday, September 04, 2017

7 Days in May | Arthur and Austen

King Arthur (2004)

This post is about stuff that we watched the week before our Britain trip. Didn't watch any movies while we were traveling.

One of the things I wanted to see in England was Hadrian's Wall, so what better way to celebrate and learn about it than the totally historically accurate King Arthur?

I kid because I love. Not many people like this version of the King Arthur story, but it's probably my favorite. It's a cool idea to set it during the Roman occupation of Britain with Arthur being a Roman officer and his knights are indentured soldiers from the conquered region of Sarmatia. They protect Roman interests in Britannia by manning Hadrian's Wall against the Celtic Woads. Merlin is a Woad and so is Guinevere.

Calling it "the untold true story" is ridiculous, but the movie is clever and fun and the cast is awesome. Clive Owen plays Arthur, Ioan Gruffudd is Lancelot, and two of my personal favorites - Keira Knightley and Mads Mikkelsen - play Guinevere and Tristan. Guinevere kicks so much ass and Tristan is basically every fantasy RPG character I've ever created. There are tons of other great actors in it, too; more than I want to list.

On top of all that are some great set pieces and a thoughtful, touching exploration of loyalty and duty.

Northanger Abbey (2007)

We didn't get as many Britain Trip movies watched as we wanted to, but since one of our stops was Bath, we wanted to sneak in at least a Jane Austen. Austen spent time in Bath (though she didn't actually like the town much) and used it as a location in a couple of her novels. Northanger Abbey is one of those and since it's a commentary on gothic romances - a genre our whole family enjoys - it felt like a good way to introduce David to Austen's stories.

There aren't many adaptations of it, but the 2007 BBC version is pretty great with or without competition. It stars Felicity Jones (Rogue One) as the main character and does a great job showing how her world view is affected by the books she reads. If you've read the novel, you know that Austen wasn't a huge fan of gothic romance (I forgive her) and that Northanger Abbey isn't so much a parody of them as it is simply making fun. But to get there, the movie lets us into the main character's imagination and uses cool, gothic imagery to do it. It's the closest Austen gets to genre work, so it's a great introduction to her (even though the movie wasn't actually filmed in Bath).

She Wore a Yellow Ribbon (1949)

Technically, I watched this out of order since it's the second of Ford's Cavalry Trilogy, but I accidentally watched it last ('cause I forgot that Rio Grande was one of them and not just one of the billion other John Wayne movies named after rivers). Really though, I think it fits best as the final in the series.

The other two are in black-and-white, but Yellow Ribbon is in color, so it looks more modern. And John Wayne isn't playing the same character he does in the other two, but an older officer who's getting ready to retire. Ben Johnson, on the other hand, does play the same character he does in Rio Grande, but in Rio Grande he's a raw recruit and he's obviously more seasoned here. So if we're trying to put together some sort of chronology to this weird, extremely loose trilogy, Yellow Ribbon ought to come last.

It's a good film, but my least favorite of the three. The plot meanders and circles back on itself and I'm never super invested in the romantic triangle of Joanne Dru, John Agar, and Harry Carey Jr. I probably would've been more interested if Dru's character had been played by Shirley Temple from Fort Apache, but that's just because I love Shirley Temple. Dru does a fine job; it's just that Carey's character never really has a chance, so there's not really any tension around that part of the story. Mostly it's just Dru and Agar pretending not to like each other and Carey suffering the fallout from their shenanigans. Not that I feel bad for Carey, because he's pretty unlikable.

I also didn't feel the weight of bad orders like I did in the other two films. Wayne's superior officer does direct Wayne into questionable activity, but it's not like anything that Henry Fonda or J Carrol Naish make him do in Fort Apache and Rio Grande. But that also makes it the most pleasant of the three films. That's not a compliment (the grittiness of the other two are what I like most about them), but it's a true statement and John Wayne is typically charming (and in an atypical way for him) and Ben Johnson even more so.

The Gunfighter (1950)

Every Gregory Peck Western I watch makes him more and more my favorite Western star. In this one, he plays a gunslinger who visits a town for reasons I won't spoil. He has enemies hot on his trail, so the town marshal - who also happens to be an old friend of Peck's - is trying to get him to leave, but Peck insists on staying until his business is concluded.

Peck is awesome in it and it's another great movie that tears down the fantasy of gunfighting as a glamorous life. Unforgiven got a lot of praise for doing that as if it was some sort of new innovation, but the more Westerns I watch - like the original Magnificent Seven and even Young Guns II, for crying out loud - the more I realize how ununique Unforgiven was in that regard.

The Day the Earth Stood Still (1951)

A classic and a favorite that I wanted David to see. It's too pretentious to be my all-time favorite '50s space invader movie (I like more cheese in them), but it's really well done and I love the design of the ship and of course Gort. It's an essential part of the science fiction canon.


Erik Johnson Illustrator said...

I'm in total agreement with you about the Day the Earth Stood Still, especially since I have this poster hanging over my TV now.

It's easily one of the best science fiction of the 50s , a decade characterized by cheapness in genre films but even with its simple message of "don't nuke the planet" and the Jesus symbolism it's surprising how nuanced and subtle it seems when compared to other films that have come out since that have tried to follow its example (James Cameron's The Abyss certainly tried to go for the same feeling as the ending)

It's also a movie that had to have been a favorite of Stan Lee and Jack Kirby. Borrowed visuals from the film crop up in many of their early monster stories while the Silver Surfer is very much Klaatu's voice in Gort's shimmering body.

Michael May said...

That's a cool observation about the Silver Surfer. Never thought of that.

And thanks for your card, by the way! We're always behind on mail, but I got a kick out of it and it means a lot to get actual snail mail these days. :)

Erik Johnson Illustrator said...

Good to know you got the card! I'm right there with you about snail mail. Living in an apartment over the summer it really is obvious that people don't even check their mailboxes anymore when my box is empty while the other are over following with junk mail!


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