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Ironclad Review

6 Mar

Ironclad

Do you like violence? Do you like gore? Do you like re-workings of history? Then you’re going to love Ironclad!

Paul Giamatti is a scene chomping King John who is seeking revenge against all who forced his name onto the Magna Carta. Solomon Kane (sorry, James Purefoy) and King Agamemnon (*ahem*, Brian Cox) don’t take kindly to this. In fact they hate the idea so much that they start an armed rebellion in the best tradition of all Braveheart clones. Limbs and entrails fly, as does sanity, right out of the proverbial window.

That isn’t to say that the film isn’t fundamentally enjoyable, it is. Like 300 or the aforementioned Solomon Kane, Ironclad is at its best not when trying to have historical or emotional significance but rather when it is indulging in its baser side. The story increasingly devolves into ever more violent set pieces, as though the director figured this out half way through. As a result of this, everything becomes more than a little incoherent, it takes skill to hold a coherent narrative above all the action, skill that the mentioned director does not have. On the fun stakes it is fine to have people fight without reason, so long as the action is stylish, however trying to balance this on the story stakes as well requires the precision that only the Tarantinos, Gibsons and Snyders of this generation possess.

In short, Ironclad is a fine way to spend an afternoon, a bit of fun with no real significance. Don’t expect any high flights of cinematography or art, just be prepared to enjoy three solid central performances and a hell of a lot of blood.

Sean Cameron

3/5

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Christmas

24 Dec

Christmas/X-Mas: What to think?

Christmas time is a strange time. All around the world people laugh and sing with glee as magic fills the air and snow falls, heralding the hour where Santa on his sleigh appears, handing out good Christmas cheer! Or at least that is what Coca-Cola would have you believe. No, Christmas is a time of decadent consumerism, false hopes and terrible marketing.  This little piece will not enlighten you (no such pretentious ambitions here) but will definitely entertain you as you stare into the abyss, that black hole ever hungry for your hard earned cash…enjoy!

Christmas as a festival has very deep roots. As far back as Roman times, various tribes and peoples in the north of Europe were recorded as having celebrations in the middle of winter, during the coldest day of the coldest month because, hey, you’ve got to have something to look forward to! Over time and mainly over the spread of the Roman Catholic faith, these festivals were appropriated to suit Christian beliefs and make them more Bible-friendly. The early monks, missionaries and other converters were well aware that their austere faith didn’t offer much in comparison to the constant quaffing and carousing that the pagan lifestyle offered, so they took the festivals and rebranded them. Eventually, as the church became more centralised over time these different appropriated festivals were amalgamated into something resembling what we now call Christmas. The date was never a fixed one until relatively recently. So, yes, no one really knows if the little baby Jesus was born on this day and everybody certainly knows that Santa wasn’t Saint Nicholas.

People can harp on as much as they like about Santa being the modern image of Saint Nicholas, but that doesn’t make it the case. Santa is a modern phenomenon, evolving alongside the growing importance of Christmas as a commercial event. It is easy to lay the blame entirely at the feet of the Coca Cola corporation, so that is precisely what must be done. I don’t know who did it, but the person who came up with the image of a morbidly obese, animal abusing, alcoholic man with questionable  fashion sense who, utilising the world’s most advanced surveillance system, spies on your children and then judges them according to his uncompromisingly Manichean belief system, is not someone I’d like to meet. Not to mention that they also dreamt of him having a crack team of midget slave labourers to crank out toy after toy all year and have him break into your house to reward or punish your children while they sleep like the possibly perverted psychopath that he is. No, that image is entirely new (also entirely disturbing, Santa is an object of terror for many children worldwide, as he was for this writer).

The idea of present giving and more importantly present buying is one more rooted in the modern world, another little tidbit from the corporations. As is the concept of decorations  etc.

Now it is an old and facile view to take that all the ills and ailments of the world stem from corporate profiteering, but the phenomenon of Christmas is new (relatively) and exists but for your money. So buy your presents and indulge in your traditions, but always remember you don’t have to do it because it is ancient or to boost the economy, or to meet the present demands of your children. No, you do it, because as so many god-awful Christmas cartoon specials have reminded us ad infinitum, for the Spirit of Christmas, good times and good cheer, happy memories (I believe that this sentence may have caused me type 2 diabetes, I certainly now have glaucoma)!

Have a merry Christmas, or whatever.

Sean Cameron

Halloween

24 Dec

All Hallow’s Eve, Samhuin, All Souls Day…Halloween is and always has been many different things to many different people. Over the years these things have transformed markedly, as all festivals do, to reflect the popular culture of whichever period and place it inhabits. It is safe to say that the sanitised homogenous marketed tripe shovelled down your throat in the present hasn’t always been the nom du jour. Indeed as you progress down the years, decades and centuries, the festivities take on decidedly darker airs, harking back to an age of superstition and magic, when the things that went bump in the night were more than your clumsy partner forgetting where the bedroom door is. Read on to be entertained and educated (I can’t offer anything more!).

It is commonly thought among ethnologists, folklorists and historians that what we now know as Halloween has its roots in the Celtic festival of Samhuin (read “summer’s end”). This day was believed by the Celts to be the time of year when the boundaries of the ‘other’ world and our world overlapped and spirits crept into the world. It was the darkest time in their calendar and they lit large bonfires to keep the darkness away and to scare away any bad spirits that may be lurking. These bonfires later found their way into Guy Fawkes Night, but they stayed a symbol of Samhuin for many a year.

Later traditions that have become associated with Halloween, such as trick-or-treating, find their roots in Scotland and Ireland. Trick-or-treating in particular originated in Scotland with what is and was known as ‘guising’ (read ‘guy-sing’), where children would go from door to door requesting food or money. In a way, it was elaborate begging, child labour, a violation of human rights. For children it was and continues to be fun.

The Halloween of today however, truly stems from the USA. It was there that the Scottish and Irish migrants took their beliefs and it was there that these beliefs found popularity. The first mass market Halloween costumes were being produced in the USA by the 1930s and since then the Halloween industry has boomed. Now we are sold themed sweets, costumes, films, tv shows, attractions and everything in-between.

So what we have seen in this limited but hopefully interesting piece, is that Halloween had its roots in Celtic culture, moved on through the centuries and acquired new traditions while shedding others, eventually coming to the USA, where it found popularity as a secular holiday that, as time went by, was increasingly aimed at children. Now it is the second largest festive industry in the USA and is celebrated across the world. Essentially though, Halloween is different things to different people. For Neo-Pagans it is a night to do whatever they do. For Jehovah’s Witnesses it is a night to ignore, because of course anything pagan is stupid. For children it is a night to receive and stuff themselves with sweets, and that is where the essential magic lies. For don’t we all want chocolate?

Sean Cameron