Saturday, December 18, 2010


Agora was written and directed by Alejandro AmenĂ¡bar (The Others, The Sea Inside).  It premiered at the Cannes and Toronto film festivals in 2009.  

This is not really a "sword and sandals" film but rather an historical drama about the life of the Alexandrian philosopher, Hypatia.  I want to discuss it here mainly for the fantastic production design work by Guy Hendrix Dyas (Elizabeth: The Golden Age, Superman Returns).
Dyas and his team did an incredible job of bringing to life the city of Alexandria in 391 CE.  Today, there is very little of ancient Alexandria left.  The modern city is built largely atop the original, even using the same grid system designed by Alexander the Great.  
Through painstaking research about the historical city, Dyas managed to design something that really feels like a living city but that is also extremely beautiful on film.  Alexandria was a port city and one that benefitted from a unique conflux of Egyptian, Greek and Roman cultural and artistic sensibilities.  The city seems to include the best of all three worlds in its design.
One of the highlights is the re-creation of the famous Alexandrian lighthouse: one of the ancient wonders of the world.  It's seen only in passing on screen but the attention to detail is quite wonderful.  The other amazing re-creation is of the ill-fated Alexandrian library which is the setting for a great portion of the film.
Hypatia is played by Rachel Weisz who does a great job of bringing to life the famous female philosopher.  I find the film profoundly sad for two reasons.  First, history notes that Hypatia was one of the first women to work and write extensively in mathematics and science.  She had the benefit of her father's tutelage and the amazing resources of the library but was seldom taken seriously because of the rise of Christianity and its disdain for women as anything but subservient to men.  The film romanticizes her murder somewhat.  The historical Hypatia is said to have been flayed alive by a group of Christians after being accused of speaking her mind.
Second, as much as the film focuses on Hypatia, it also chronicles the rise of Christianity in Alexandria and the hate and intolerance it brought with it.  Granted, Christians themselves had been persecuted since the dawn of their religion but did that give them the right to slaughter those of other faiths?  The film is really an indictment of Christianity.  It depicts Christians as short-sighted villains who willfully kill others and destroy the Alexandrian library and its half a million texts. About 1% of those texts have survived to today.  Imagine all that was lost?!  The sequence of the library's destruction is extremely painful to watch.
Agora is a perfect name for this film.  The agora was a "place of assembly" in ancient Greek cities; sort of a town square.  Ancient Alexandria was like an agora for the Mediterranean.  It was a meeting place for all cultures and peoples until the 4th century CE when intolerance and hate almost destroyed it.  Countless treasures of human thought were lost.  Who knows how Western civilization may have evolved had the Alexandrian library remained intact and continued its mission of collecting the world's knowledge and training new scholars?  

As I mentioned above, Agora is really not a sword and sandals film but I recommend it highly to fans of the genre and everyone else.

Thursday, December 16, 2010

Alexandra Tydings and Claire Stansfield at Toronto Trek 2000

I met my first cast members from Hercules: The Legendary Journeys and Xena: Warrior Princess at a convention called Toronto Trek in 2000.  Alexandra Tydings (Aphrodite) and Claire Stansfield (Alti) were fantastic convention guests!  They seemed genuinely happy to be there and they filled the autograph room with energy!  They brought a ghetto blaster and played fun music which made the lines more tolerable and when you reached them they really made the autograph session personal.

I've been going to conventions since 1991 and this remains one of my all time favourite con experiences!  Thanks, ladies!

Sunday, December 12, 2010

Eye Candy: Karl Urban as Cupid

6'1" Karl Urban was born in New Zealand in 1972.  His acting career began in earnest after he completed high school.  He appeared on the TV series Shortland Street for a season before moving on to appear in three episodes of Hercules: The Legendary Journeys and Xena: Warrior Princess as Cupid.  He would also play Julius Caesar in several episodes of both series.  He is probably best-known now for  his appearances in The Lord of the Rings trilogy, Pathfinder (2007) and Star Trek (2009).

In "The Green-Eyed Monster"

In "For Him the Bell Tolls"

In "A Comedy of Eros"

Saturday, December 11, 2010

Eye Candy: Lou Ferrigno in Sinbad on the Seven Seas

6'5", 275 lb Lou Ferrigno was born in 1951 in New York.  At the age of 21 he won his first Mr. Universe title he has also been Teenage Mr. America and Mr. America.  He is probably best-known for playing Marvel's Hulk in the 70s television series and movies.  He took on the role of Sinbad in 1989's Sinbad of the Seven Seas.

Friday, December 10, 2010

Sinbad of the Seven Seas

Sinbad of the Seven Seas is a cheaply-made Italian film from 1989.  It's very much in the style of the original Italian sword and sandal films.  It was directed by Enzo Castellari and despite its many, many flaws it seems to have become a cult favourite for those who enjoy bad movies for their unintentional humour.
The film is incredibly badly written.  It opens with an image of Edgar Allan Poe and some scrolling text that suggests the story is based on Poe's parody of the Tales From 1001 Arabian NightsThe Thousand and Second Tale of Scheherazade.  In fact, the two stories bear absolutely no resemblance to one another.  Next, we're introduced to a horrible framing story in which a modern-day mother tells her daughter the story we're about to see.  The mother's awful voiceover is heard throughout the entire film, guiding us with unnecessary and ridiculous dialogue.
Interestingly, several story points and design elements seem to have been lifted from this film for Disney's Aladdin.  Princess Alina of Basra is set to marry Prince Ali who is sailing with Sinbad.  Alina's father is the caliph of Basra and he is under the evil spell of his vizier, Jaffar.  Jaffar desires power and wants to marry the princess so he can rule Basra.  When Alina refuses to marry him, Jaffar places her under arrest and keeps her captive in his dungeon.
When Sinbad and his international crew, including Prince Ali, a viking, a Chinese soldier of fortune, a Greek cook and a character described as "The Dwarf," return to Basra they find the city in chaos under Jaffar's control.  Jaffar has taken possession of Basra's five sacred gems which give him great evil power.  When Sinbad attempts to retrieve them, Jaffar sends four of the gems to the far corners of the world where they are guarded by strange and horrible creatures.  Sinbad and his crew reluctantly leave Alina in Jaffar's custody and set sail to retrieve the gems so they can overpower Jaffar.
On the high seas, Sinbad's ship is beset by strange phantasms sent by Jaffar.  The crew easily defeats them and continues on to an island where there is a powerful oracle.  The oracle is actually stock footage from Hercules vs. The Moon Men (1964).  The oracle tells Sinbad where he can find the gems and the crew sets sail again.
They land next at Skull Island where Sinbad fights a rock monster and retrieves the first sacred gem.  This sequence might be an homage to the aforementioned Hercules vs. The Moon Men in which Hercules fights similar rock creatures.
Next, Sinbad lands on an island inhabited by Amazons.  He warns his crew that the queen of the Amazons is a "mind vampire" who can seduce them and leave them mindless.  This is, in fact, exactly what happens.  Sinbad and most of his men are captured by the Amazons and the Greek cook and the Dwarf are left to rescue them. When Sinbad retrieves the second gem from the Amazon queen, she loses her beauty and is transformed into a haggard old woman.
On the Island of Death, Sinbad and his men are attacked by the spirits of dead warriors in a sequence reminiscent of the walking suits of armour in Bedknobs and Broomsticks.  The crew defeats the spirits and retrieves the third gem.  Jaffar, who is able to watch these goings-on in a mirror from his dungeon, sends a strange wind that transports Sinbad's men back on to the ship and sends the ship back out to sea. Sinbad is stranded on the island where he encounters a young woman named Kyra and her father Nadir, a magician.  Kyra leads Sinbad to an area of the island inhabited by zombies where she believes the fourth gem is hidden.
Having defeated the zombies, Sinbad and Kyra move on to battle a strange green slime monster that shoots laser-like beams from its hands.  Sinbad uses the power of the three gems he has found to defeat the monster and retrieve the final gem. Then, using a hot air balloon of Nadir's creation, Sinbad and his two new friends escape the island and head back for Basra.  En route, they are reunited with Sinbad's ship and crew.
Back in Basra, Sinbad and crew face off against Jaffar's men.  Sinbad escapes from a magical light cage created by Jaffar and then must fight a double of himself, created by the sorcerer.
Finally, Jaffar is defeated.  Princess Alina is freed and she marries Prince Ali.  The caliph is freed from Jaffar's powers and Sinbad marries Kyra.
I admit to watching and enjoying some pretty bad movies but this one is really bad. First, because it was all shot on location without sound equipment, all the dialogue had to be dubbed in later.  The dubbing is AWFUL.  It seems that only a couple of the original actors are dubbing themselves.  The mother and child from the framing story have the worst dubbing of all.  The child's voice is clearly done by an older woman trying to sound like a girl.  If that weren't bad enough, the dialogue itself, by Tito Carpi and Enzo Castellari, is perhaps the worst I have ever heard.  It's really beyond cheesy.  Voiceovers are very hard to do well and they only work when used sparingly.  This film uses voiceover almost constantly.

The story by Lewis Coates (Luigi Cozzi) is pretty lame.  Even if there were great actors in this it's doubtful they could have made it look good.  Hulking Lou Ferrigno leads the cast as Sinbad.  He's huge and consequently, Sinbad is given Herculean strength.  The only other actor worth mentioning is John Steiner who plays Jaffar. Steiner played dozens of moustache-twirling villains in Italian films of the 70s and 80s.  He's pretty entertaining to watch.

I guess this is worth watching once if you're a big fan of the genre but, as I said, it's pretty bad so be prepared to shake your head often.  It's available on a cheap-o MGM DVD.  The only bonus feature is the theatrical trailer.