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Notes from the back row

Horses, ogres and Elephants, oh my

After Gladiator won an Oscar for Roman history, it was only a matter of time until someone mustered up the balls and $175 million to make an epic movie depicting the fall of Troy, one of the most legendary battles ever, and attempted to do the same for Greece.

Well the time is now and the movie is Wolfgang Peterson’s Troy. With an all-star cast (Brad Pitt’s bare ass) and almost a dozen grisly battle sequences, Troy is the summer blockbuster to beat. The story is an old one, based loosely on Homer’s Iliad, but a good one nonetheless and Peterson, no stranger to emotion-wrenching tense dramas ( The Perfect Storm, Outbreak, Das Boot) does a decent job of telling it.

Paris, prince of Troy, played by Orlando Bloom, is a lover not a fighter. In fact he’s a bit of a pussy. After stealing beautiful maiden Helen of Sparta away from her husband, and pissing off most of Greece, Paris relies on his daddy and big brother Hector ( Hulk’ s Eric Bana) to protect him. Most pissed off is mean old Menelaus, upset for losing his hot wife, and his brother Agememnon, power-hungry and looking to rule all of the Agean Sea.

Heading the attack against the supposedly un-sackable city of Troy is Achilles (very-buff Brad Pitt), a warrior so serious and morally flexible he has his own tendon named after him. Yeah, I know it’s all Greek to me too, and I’ve been there. (There’s a juice stand at Agememnon’s tomb that sells the best orange juice on earth. It comes from red oranges.) But don’t worry, even if you forget the characters’ names, the actors are such superstars it’s easy to remember who’s on whose side.


is a summer blockbuster, and a big one at that (140 minutes), so don’t expect it to change you’re life. However, it’s got lots of killing and the four essential elements of any good war story: Love, Honour, Power, Glory. The drama borders on sappy occasionally but isn’t that the way it usually goes with big-budget Hollywood flicks? Just enjoy it for what it is. The action and violence (while not as brutal as Braveheart and almost mundane at times) should still suit the male audience fine. And for the ladies, there’s that big horse and Brad Pitt naked (and totally fetishized by the camera, which can’t seem to stay away from his body). That alone makes it a hit at the box office – ask your girlfriend to pay for your tickets, she will.

Also opening at the Village Eight, (on May 19) is Shrek 2. It’s like a computer-generated version of Meet the Parents where Shrek and his new bride must travel to a kingdom far, far away and meet her parents. The thing is, Mom and Dad are expecting Prince Charming, not a green ogre and a talking donkey. Shrek 1 was pretty good and incredibly popular so hopefully, three years later, Shrek 2 can keep the dream alive.

I like seeing kids’ movies at the matinee times. Kids are so weird it’s sometimes more fun to watch them than the flick. In any case, after a couple pre-movie bong hits and a large popcorn, extra fake butter, this is a good way to kill a sunny afternoon.

The DVD of the week is a doozy. Gus Van Sant’s Elephant won the top prize at the Cannes film festival last year and for good reason. Story-wise it’s an ordinary day at an ordinary high school – kids get detentions, girls gossip, people get picked on. The ordinary-ness goes out the window pretty fast when two students pack up all their semi-automatic weapons and go on a killing spree, Columbine style.

The violence isn’t glorified, the characters are very realistic and superbly acted by a bunch of kids you’ve never seen in a movie before, and the camera work is utterly amazing. Director of Photography Harris Savides, under Van Sant’s direction, perfectly captures the solitude of the high school experience through a cluster or long tracking shots that intermingle and cut through time, following different characters through the same events while slowly unravelling a compelling story.

The school layout and the lives of its students become clearer and clearer with each passing shot until the bullets start to fly. It’s raw and minimalist, shockingly dark, yet tender too, and just a little bit artsy. Basically one of the best films I’ve seen in a while. Rent it, and be thankful for this country’s gun laws.

At Village 8 May 14-20: Troy, Shrek 2 (starting May 19), Mean Girls, Van Helsing, New York Minute, Kill Bill Vol. 2.

At Rainbow Theatre May 14-20: Hellboy.