Tag: film

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A scene of the Green Knight from David Lowery's "The Green Knight"

Where David Lowery’s “The Green Knight” (2021) Fails

Despite its canonical status, the long medieval poem “Sir Gawain and the Green Knight” is a veritable mixed-bag: its structural sophistication (relative, at least, to other chivalric romances of the period) and genuine charm cannot fully subvert the archaic nature of its plot, characters and symbolism; and, like pretty much every work of surviving early world literature, its importance lies mainly in foundational aspects rather than real artistic quality, which would become more available to writers with the advent of modernity. However, it is certainly an odd tale, and underneath its whimsies one senses something grimmer at play. A danger, even: fatal dismembering contests, the body-horror of the headless, talking warrior, the strange, clandestine games officiated by personages hidden from Gawain’s knowledge, his impotent, not-very-knightly raging at the end, and so on. Plus, the homoerotic subtext in the Gawain-Lord Bertilak interactions point to some authorial mischief, I suspect, although this cannot be proven with any strong degree of accuracy. The story’s opacity, due to historical distance and the anonymity of the poet, simultaneously gestures at these mysteries whilst disclosing them from further scrutiny.

Of course, this has not stopped intense interest in its contents after the re-discovery of the poem’s single surviving manuscript in the early nineteenth century, culminating in reams of academic treatises (thus buttressing its position in the Western canon), a famous translation by J.R.R. Tolkien, and several adaptations into other mediums – with its most recent entry in cinema via writer-director David Lowery’s The Green Knight (2021).

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A screenshot of the protagonist from Ridley Scott's "Kingdom of Heaven"

The Grace of Spectacle: On Ridley Scott’s “Kingdom of Heaven” (2005)

Straight out of the gate: Ridley Scott’s 2005 epic Kingdom of Heaven is not a great film. It’s not near-great. It’s not even that good. It is seriously flawed and oftentimes disappointing. However, I argue that despite its flaws, Kingdom of Heaven is not garbage, nor even very bad. My judgment: Kingdom of Heaven is a so-so film with a weak screenplay, subpar acting from its male lead, and some glimmers of what could have been a great film. I also argue that although many rightfully skewer the film for its historical inaccuracies, historical in/accuracy is not the end-all-be-all criteria for evaluating historical films. In addition, I argue that the film’s saving grace is its look, and Ridley offers the viewer enough of a spectacle that Kingdom of Heaven rises just above the murk, however stained.


It is 1184. The film opens in a gloomy, miserable France, where we are introduced to Balian (Orlando Bloom), the protagonist. He is the resident blacksmith, ex-soldier, as well as a widower (his wife having committed suicide after the death of their infant) and wears an “expression” of bleak, handsome indifference which may or may not alter in minute degrees during this three-hour-long epic. He has a half-brother (Michael Sheen), a sniveling, greedy priest, who wants Balian’s property for himself. He half-asses the burial of Balian’s wife, which will later prove his undoing.

The events of Kingdom of Heaven are kicked off by the arrival of a crusader named Baron Godfrey of Ibelin (Liam Neeson) with a cohort of other warriors, including a Hospitaler (David Thewlis). Godfrey reveals himself to be Balian’s father, and asks him to join their journey back to the Holy Land. Balian refuses, and the crusaders leave. Miffed by Balian’s stolidity, his brother admits to beheading the corpse of his wife, the “true” punishment for a suicide, in an effort to enrage Balian into leaving. Of course, it backfires, and Balian murders him via impalement and burning. […]

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Character pointing gun in John Sayles's Lone Star

John Sayles’s “Lone Star” (1996): Racial Drama, Greek Tragedy, Western

At its core, John Sayles’s Lone Star is about such demarcations, and who, ultimately, gets to do the demarcating. It’s also about the oftentimes tense relations between the multi-ethnic populations of a small town on the US-Mexico border, as well as the corruption that stems from evil; and, as if those weren’t enough to handle, there’s enough time for a tender tale of star-crossed lovers. It’s a testament to Sayles’s skills as an artist that Lone Star manages to juggle all these narratives (and more) while still coming across as a coherent whole, its themes bold enough for most audiences to detect their presence but deployed with such subtlety to reward repeated viewings. It’s the above quotation, however, that reveals John Sayles as not only the great American independent filmmaker but one of the medium’s keenest observers of societal conflict, whether it be in urban cityscapes (City of Hope), the colonial tropics (Amigo) or more fantastical, rustic settings (The Secret of Roan Inish). That he puts these words in the mouth of a mildly bigoted bartender, in a moment of seemingly throwaway comedy, shows his attention to detail, as even tertiary characters are given more than one dimension and are treated not as window dressing but as ordinary people with their own wants, aims, and philosophies, despite their brevity. It’s ordinary people, after all, who live among such demarcations, and it’s ordinary people who suffer men like Charlie Wade and Buddy Deeds to administer, encourage and/or expunge them. […]