Saturday, November 05, 2011


Swords and Sandals. I must admit I'm a sucker for historic epics. Done with panache they can be glorious entertainment, a la "Robin Hood" and "Gladiator" with Russel Crowe or "Spartacus" with Kirk Douglas.

Lately I've been furiously downloading and streaming films because I see the handwriting on the wall about being able to do so, and also I want something else to pass the time with besides playing Scrabble when the internet goes down for good. I consider it money in the bank when a flick is successfully stashed on the hard drive. I think I have about 1600 of them tucked away; the Mrs and I haven't watched probably half of them yet. More about this in a little bit.

I happened to view several of those S & S tales lately and they were pretty damn good. Two were about a Nordic saga named "Beowulf" and "Beowulf and Grendel" from 2007 and 2005 respectively. This heroic epic is set in Denmark circa 500 AD and is about a cursed clan saved from a murderous troll by the eponymous hero, who's strenuous efforts betray his all too human good and bad qualities.
The two films broach the same subject but couldn't be more different in comparison. B and G is a live action presentation - the troll is represented by a big moaning guy and the story is told in straight terms with absolutely stunning Icelandic cinematography. It shows the proto Viking lifestyle in great detail and good character development. Aside from Stellan SkarsgÄrd and Sarah Polley the cast was brand new to me, which to be honest in these Owen Wilson and Nicholas Cage saturated days, is pretty refreshing. Not a bad effort at all.

The real stunner was Beowulf. Made with somewhat the same process as "Avatar" it is truly a visual treat. It has quite the stellar cast, if you can call it that, and the makers went to great lengths creating characters that are remarkably similar to their voice counterparts. Here's Jon Malkovich's character:

I've got to say that crafting the movie this way freed them up to be spectacularly inventive and the epic became that much more rich accordingly. Plus the quality is so good that just like Avatar you could lose yourself in the story, actually forgetting at times that you're basically watching a cartoon. But this is no milquetoast Disney creation. It's raw and stark and bellowing in parts just like a Viking saga ought to be. Grendel is a true disgusting troll here, and the story is vastly deeper and more interesting than B and G. If you like this sort of stuff I recommend it highly.

Another historic tale that I actually watched this morning is "Ironclad", that came out earlier this year. It basically picks up the story of Brit history where Robin Hood lets off. The ever watchable Paul Giamatti plays King John who decides to rip up the Magna Carta, raise a mercenary army, and forcibly seize control of England again as dictator. A ragtag crew led by a Knight's Templar hold a castle that absolutely must be taken by John and his Danish mercs. This is a mud and gore fest. But you know, I'm glad these sword and sandal flicks are so gritty because I imagine that's exactly how life was back then. It's sort of like how Sergio Leone forever changed the look of westerns in the 60s, from sterile white and black hat morality plays to complicated, sweaty, dusty yarns.

Again if you want to either watch streaming movies or download them to watch later, it's a snap. And like I mentioned the capability is probably not going to be around much longer. The vast majority of films online are in AVI format. Just go to the Div X site and download their player, it's free and very reputable. It'll load some other software and put some icons on the desktop. You're now in business. My two favorite movie data dumps are Sockshare and StageVu. Sockshare is a fantastic resource for all types of movies and only costs $12.99 for 3 months. I've downloaded hundreds of films from there and they specialize in first run efforts, movies that sometimes haven't even gone to disk yet. StageVu is free and they have a vast collection of classics. At StageVu, find prolific uploaders like Texasdude and take a look at their collections. Click the necessary buttons and Div X does it all for you. Voila.


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