Biblical babes

I just watched the National Geographic special on The Gospel of Judas. Interesting subject, though it was handled in a pretty remedial way. As with most documentaries the parts I liked best were the interviews with experts (a.k.a., talking heads). I don’t like dramatic re-enactments of historical events. I often wonder if there’s any point to these at all. I guess they liven things up a bit, but they always seem a little silly to me and not very instructive.

If you’ve seen many Bible-themed movies you get used to it being a story — the greatest ever told! — that’s prettied up. Even the gore of Mel Gibson’s The Passion of the Christ has a glamorous quality to it, and Jim Caviezel is the usual “close but kind of meatless” actor playing Jesus. That’s the handsome-hippy way he’s also presented in the re-enactments here, with Judas equally good looking but with a dirty beard.

I tend to just roll my eyes at movie Jesuses now. They all look the same and I doubt they’re even that accurate. Even the idea that Jesus had a beard is debatable, as it was actually quite a late addition to his iconography (in the earliest depictions he was a beardless youth). But where I really had to laugh watching The Gospel of Judas was when I saw the women. Here are some early Christians listening to a reading of the gospels.

Come on. These ladies are beautiful. I don’t think many working-class women in first-century Palestine looked like this. And here is the martyr Blandina about to die for the faith in the arena at Lugdunum (modern Lyon).

A model martyr, if you will.

Again Mel Gibson’s movie can be taken as setting a high bar for this sort of thing, with Monica Bellucci playing Mary Magdalene. I guess it makes sense that a pretty Jesus should be surrounded by Biblical babes but this can be taken too far, even by Hollywood.

Double feature

Richard and Clint, plotting their next move.

A book-movie double bill today, with notes on Where Eagles Dare up at Alex on Film and a brief review of Geoff Dyer’s commentary on it, “Broadsword Calling Danny Boy,” at Goodreports. Both well worth checking out. They made me wonder though how much of the interest in Where Eagles Dare today is driven by nostalgia. Not for the Second World War, but its place in the cultural imagination, particularly of boys in the 1960s and ’70s. And whether that’s a kind of popularity likely to last. If so, I think it will have to change into something else.

‘Tis the season

It’s the most wonderful time of the year.

Over at Alex on Film I seem to have made it a bit of a holiday tradition to look at some less conventional, and usually very bad, Christmas movies. I kept at it this year with the Bad Santa movies and Fatman. Going back a few years, here are some of the other lumps of coal Hollywood has been leaving in our stockings:

Black Christmas (1974)
Silent Night, Deadly Night (1984)
Silent Night, Deadly Night Part 2 (1987)
Bad Santa (2003)
Krampus (2016)
Better Watch Out (2016)
Bad Santa 2 (2016)
Black Christmas (2019)
Fatman (2020)

Top of the world

Going up.

Just over 24 years ago I started what turned into a surprisingly long stint as a freelance book reviewer with a review of Jon Krakauer’s Into Thin Air. I think it was the second review I had published, outside of student newspapers and academic journals. Alas, it appeared in a paper that hasn’t had a books page now for over a decade.

I absolutely loved Krakauer’s book, and a couple of months later did a double review for the same paper of a pair of similarly-themed mountaineering books: Dark Shadows Falling by Joe Simpson and Everest: Mountain without Mercy by Broughton Coburn. The latter was a companion book to an IMAX expedition that was on Everest the same time as Krakauer’s team. Apparently I liked the pictures but thought the text “virtually unreadable.” I recently re-read it though, so I can say that judgment was maybe a little harsh. Still, the main draw are the pictures.

I don’t think I saw the IMAX film Everest at the time, but I recently watched it — on DVD, alas, and a small screen — and posted my thoughts over at Alex on Film. I guess after nearly a quarter century this closes that particular circle.

In case you’re wondering, I’m not a mountain climber. Or rock climber. Not at all. Though I do like hiking. You couldn’t pay me enough to get me to go up Everest, though I wouldn’t mind visiting Nepal. The dangerous stuff should probably be left for the professionals.

Return to Stepford

Over at Alex on Film I’ve been watching the two (big-screen) adaptations made of Ira Levin’s The Stepford Wives. Mostly I was trying to figure out what went wrong. Levin’s book is a little classic, and one that would still seem to have a lot to say to us today. But both movies (1975 and 2004) get confused as to what their ultimate point is, and end up being muddled without providing much in the way of horror, humour, or social commentary. I can’t help thinking that someone might still be able to get it right, if they ever want to give it another shot.

Shark week

Something fishy this way comes.

Over at Alex on Film I’ve been watching a bunch of shark movies. After the mega-success of Jaws there had to be plenty more of these, but sharks are hard to get right, whether of the mechanical or CGI variety. They also don’t have a lot of personality. So the results have been pretty dismal.

Jaws (1975)
Jaws 2 (1978)
Jaws 3-D (1983)
Jaws: The Revenge (1987)
Deep Blue Sea (1999)
Sharknado (2013)
Sharknado 2: The Second One (2014)
Sharknado 3: Oh Hell No! (2015)
The Shallows (2016)
47 Meters Down (2017)
The Meg (2018)
47 Meters Down: Uncaged (2019)


A man of many appetites, and many movies.

Over at Alex on Film I’ve been posting notes on a bunch of movies relating to the Tudors, arguably the first family of drama. Though it’s interesting how it’s really only been a few figures who have dominated the story. The father of the short-lived dynasty, Henry VII, doesn’t make an appearance in any of these movies, even though he led a fairly interesting life. Edward VI doesn’t show up either, but then that’s a lot less surprising. You’d think there’d be more out there about Bloody Mary but she’s still perceived as being more of a villain instead of a complex and tragic figure.

That leaves us with Henry VIII, Elizabeth I, and Mary Queen of Scots (Mary’s grandmother was Henry’s sister Margaret). Henry’s marriages are his story (he wasn’t a warrior). The movies about Mary all just deal with her years in Scotland and then jump ahead to her execution. Elizabeth is the virgin queen who still has a heart to be stolen. Audiences have never gotten tired of this stuff, even though it’s remarkable how little the story has changed or been adjusted to be more realistic or historically accurate. This certainly isn’t an exhaustive list of all that’s out there, but here are the ones I watched.

The Execution of Mary, Queen of Scots (1895)
Anna Boleyn (1920)
The Private Life of Henry VIII (1933)
Mary of Scotland (1936)
The Private Lives of Elizabeth and Essex (1939)
A Man for All Seasons (1966)
Anne of the Thousand Days (1969)
Mary, Queen of Scots (1971)
Carry On Henry VIII (1971)
Elizabeth (1998)
Elizabeth: The Golden Age (2007)
Mary Queen of Scots (2018)


You don’t know the half of it.

Over at Alex on Film I’ve been watching the Hills Have Eyes movies. This is a weird franchise. The original 1977 film written and directed by Wes Craven has gone on to become a cult favourite, though I don’t think it’s anything special, or very good. It was followed up eight years later by The Hills Have Eyes Part II, a movie that I don’t think Craven wanted anything to do with and which appears to have been cobbled together out of whatever he’d shot after the success of A Nightmare on Elm Street. It’s terrible.

Then, nearly thirty years after the original, Alexandre Aja was picked to direct a remake which I think is the best of the horror-franchise remakes that were thick on the ground in the early 2000s. I love what Aja did, and the mutant hill people are a great twist.

There was a sequel to Aja’s movie the next year with The Hills Have Eyes 2. Though not as good, it’s still a decent attempt at doing something different, this time having a squad of National Guardsmen being hunted by the cannibal clan of hillbillies. Anyway, the upshot is that the remakes are actually more entertaining than the first two movies, which is rarely the case. Obviously, though, they aren’t for everyone.