Korsgaard's Commentary

In the collective pantheon of Gods and heroes, and the legends that surround them, few are as ubiquitous as the tale of the Greek demigod Hercules. Though varying in details, most versions of the legend are similar enough that I don’t need to explain it, only that tales of Hercules’ godlike strength and grand adventures have made him Greco-Roman pantheon’s most famous son, and excluding rare exceptions like King Arthur, Beowulf or Sun Wukong, perhaps human cultures’ most iconic hero.

So given that, it’s somewhat curious that there is a definitive lack of film adaptations of Hercules’ legends, certainly a lack of any good ones. There’s been no shortage of bad ones mind you, including a score of lousy Italian films best known for their MST3K riffings, Arnold Schwarzenegger’s often forgotten first film role, and even an animated Disney movie best remembered for its gospel music, James Woods and marking the end of the Disney Renaissance. Even today, in the age of cheap CGI and scores of film adaptations based on superheroes filling theaters, Hercules can’t catch a break, with the most recent attempt, The Legend of Hercules, staring Twilight-alumni Kellan Lutz, was torn apart by critics and sank at the box office without a trace. When the best Hercules movie yet made is likely the one starring the Three Stooges, that says a lot.
Dwayne-Johnson-in-Hercules-2014-Movie-PosterWhich brings us to the most recent attempt, released today, Hercules. Starring Dwayne Johnson in the titular role, and based off the comic book by Steve Moore, Hercules: The Thracian Wars, at least looking at the trailers, it seems to have many of the elements missing from the scores of others, showcasing scenes where Hercules struggles against the Hydra, or in the midst of battle with legions of foes. On the flip side, it’s also directed by Brett Ratner and has a script whose most notable contributor has only previously written direct-to-DVD Disney sequels, and the production has (rightfully) earned bad press for screwing over Steve Moore out of a paycheck, and then using his recent death to promote the film. Still, by popular demand, and some morbid curiosity on my part, I went to see if Hercules can at last conquer the silver screen.

So can the movie live up to the legend, or is watching it one of the Twelve Labors in and of itself? Join me as I find out my dear readers, as I review Hercules.

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I may have mentioned before that I am a devoted reader of Analog Science Fiction and Fact, and in my time reading the magazine, one of the many great short stories that stuck with me was one published in 2012, The Journeyman: On the Shortgrass Prairie by Michael Flynn. The reason I bring this up is that there has been a pair of follow-ups to this story recently in two recent issues of Analog, and if you haven’t been following these stories with me, you’re missing out on an emerging gem.
analog-the-journeyman-against-the-green-michael-flynnTeodorq sunna Nagarajan is a tribesman of the Great Grass on the run from a rival clan, seeking to kill Teodorq for his murder of one of their kinsmen. Thanks to some clever evasion tricks and his unmatched skill with a knife, he’s finally managed to lose his tail, just as he enters unfamiliar territory, and with it, an unfamiliar hillman named Sammi, sent by his own people on a walkabout. In a strange new land, the two decade to travel together, and begin a journey that will take them to the very edges of their world… and even beyond.

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My dear readers, I can hardly believe it’s already been another year. On this day back in 2011, I made my first post on a newly born blog – today, Korsgaard’s Commentary turns 4.

I wouldn’t have believed making those first few bashful postings that Korsgaard’s Commentary would be going on and going strong years later. I’m proud to say those years have seen both myself, my writing style and the site improve in quality. I’m prouder still to see that the audience reading them has grown along with them, and to all of my readers, both you humble newcomers, and those of you who have stuck around from various points over the last four years, I want to thank each and every one of you. A writer is nothing without his readers after all.

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My dear readers, I just got back from attending the simulcast of the final night of Monty Python Live (Mostly), the long talked about Monty Python reunion for one last big show before the five surviving members join the late Graham Chapman in the bleedin’ choir invisible. While I’d have given anything to see it live – slim chance given tickets told out in just over 43 seconds – I can’t describe just how it felt to see it at all. Not just for getting to see the last (in all likelihood) performance of Monty Python mind you, but for doing so in a packed theater full of fellow fans, all looking at each other knowingly as certain old favorites were set up, laughing uproariously just as much as we’d done the first time we saw them, and joining in an admittedly heartwarming sing-a-long of “Always Look on the Bright Side of Life“. It’s an experience I fully encourage you to seek out while it’s still replaying in theaters.
Monty_Python_cast_membersIt’s really hard to do proper justice to the impact Monty Python had on comedy and popular culture. It’s been said that they did for comedy what the Beatles did for music, but even that falls short, because we’d have still had rock and roll without the Fab Four, but comedy today would be unrecognizable without Graham Chapman, John Cleese, Terry Gilliam, Eric Idle, Terry Jones, and Michael Palin. World-famous for their surrealist, unconventional style of comedy, so unbrandable they invented the word Pythonesque just to describe it, Monty Python’s wide-reaching influence has turned them into a comedic and cultural institution.

Like countless other young fans before me, I can recall sessions of laughing fits watching episodes of Monty Python’s Flying Circus, quoting Monty Python and the Holy Grail nearly word for word among my friends, and considered it a rite of passage when I was kicked out of church once for singing “Every Sperm is Sacred“. Monty Python has been bringing laughter to the world since 1969, its no small shame that, even if this doesn’t turn out to be their last time together, that the day is fast approaching that the final curtain calls for the five remaining members.
Monty_Python_collageThat said, I can think of no better way to memorialize the (more than likely) last bow of the Flying Circus, than by counting down what I feel to be the Top Ten Best Monty Python Sketches. I only had one ground rule making this list: I am limiting the nominees to sketches from the original run of Monty Python’s Flying Circus. There’s nothing wrong with the Monty Python movies mind you, but I feel it best to examine and enjoy the movies on their own merits – and indeed you should, it’s a triage of some of the funniest material ever put to film. Much the same, I fully encourage you to watch as much of the original TV series itself – it was only by intense and repeated study that I managed to put this list together after all, and if these be the brightest gems of the bunch, Monty Python’s Flying Circus as a whole is still a comedic gold mine. Plus, you can’t tell me which of your favorites I may have missed if you don’t have any to choose from!

And now for something completely different, the Top 10 Best Monty Python Sketches.

10) Crunchy Frog

Kicking off our list is a sketch centered on a pair of hygiene inspectors sent to inquire about a chocolatier’s merchandise, that’s offers a bit too much truth in advertising. Chiefly it’s ‘Crunchy Frog’, which is quite literally a frog coated in chocolate, crunchy because “if we took the bones out, it wouldn’t be crunchy, would it?”, followed by Ram’s Bladder Cup, Anthrax Ripple, Cockroach Clusters, and others. It’s largely centered on wordplay and the growing absurdity of the chocolates in question.
Monty-Python-Crunchy-Frog-chocolatesThough similar to the Cheese Shop sketch, I gave Crunchy Frog the edge for two reasons. The first is that, in addition to the back and forth between John Cleese and Terry Jones, we get Graham Chapman’s expressive and increasingly nauseous reactions to the descriptions of each candy. The second, is pop cultural legacy, with several of the candies listed in the sketch referenced elsewhere, including Harry Potter, which has since made selling Chocolate Frogs and Cockroach Clusters part of its own merchandising empire – wonder if the Whizzo Chocolate Company had a trademark?

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I’m sure by now that Matthew W. Quinn needs no introduction to my more faithful readers, given the many times I’ve discussed and recommended his work before. For those of you who do however, or for those who’ve taken a liking to his work as much as I have, his latest offering cannot be missed.
Flashing_Fire_Flashing_SteelFlashing Steel, Flashing Fire: Ten Tales of Valor and Imagination by Matthew W. Quinn is exactly what is sounds like, an anthology of both Quinn’s previously published short stories and a handful of original works as well. These stories include:

Coil GunPreviously reviewed here, and included as the cover story of an issue of Digital Science Fiction, the story follows the outbreak of World War III between the United States and the rival Afrikaner Confederation, as nukes fly and space-based kinetic bombardment rains from the sky, and we get a front row seat to both side’s visions to Armageddon.

Lord Giovanni’s Daughter – A hardboiled sword-and-sandals adventure story in the style of Robert E. Howard that sees a rogue by the name of John Fiore hired to infiltrate the palace of a powerful Naga prince to rescue the titular Lord Giovanni’s daughter from their serpentine clutches. Some creative twists with genre tropes and some tense action make this a highlight of the anthology, and hopefully not the last time we see Quinn dabble in such fare.

Nicor – A creature-future set in medieval Scandinavia where a young Dane on his first reaving along with a longboat of his kinsmen go toe-to-toe with a vicious bog beast. One part monster movie, one part medieval adventure tale, Nicor is a solid saga in the view your humble Nordic narrator’s opinion, especially given his knowledge and detailing of Norse culture in the story (among others, not calling them Vikings).

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It was the best of times, it was the worst of times – at least that is the case at the multiplex this week, where a pair of recent releases provides an interesting case of cinematic contrast-and-compare. On one hand, you have the latest bog-standard Transformers movie, Michael Bay phoning it in as usual, with the most daring thing the movie does is sexualize a seventeen year old. On the other hand, you have Snowpiercer, a critically hailed sci-fi satire that has critics’ abuzz and international audiences swooning. The former was the first movie of 2014 to make over $100 million in its opening weekend, the latter barely got a studio release, and this review will hopefully showcase why this is such a crime.
snowpiercer-posterFor the uninitiated or uninformed, Snowpiercer is a South Korean science fiction film from director Bong Joon-ho, whom a few cinephiles or monster movie junkies might recognize as the man behind The Host. Initially, Snowpiercer began to draw attention for many of the same signatures – the intriguing premise and strong satirical bent being two – but also for being aimed squarely at Western markets, ranging from a leading cast mostly of recognizable Hollywood actors like Chris Evans or Tilda Swinton, being shot mostly in English, and even being based off of a long-running French comic book. Snowpiercer had high aspirations, to be the first truly globalized blockbuster, and overseas, it succeeded, making a mint at the box office and earning rave reviews at several film festivals.

Unfortunately, here in the America, it ran into a massive obstacle by the name of Harvey Weinstein, whose company bought the US distribution rights, and has since resulted in one of the most talked about instances of studio interference of the last several years. Beginning with his desire to cut 25 minutes from the movie and add voiceovers proving deeply controversialmostly because his reasons for doing so was “Americans are too stupid for this movie”resulting in a storm of negative press and director Bong Joon-ho refusing to allow the cuts, it finally culminated in Weinstein releasing the uncut movie as spitefully as he could: with next to no marketing, an extremely brief release period begun with a release date against Transformers 4, before being sent to video-on-demand later this month. With hype behind it, and that much opposition against it, how could I not buy a ticket for a ride on this railroaded spectacle?

So does the movie have the momentum to be a genuine thrill ride, or was this derailed crazy train already going off the rails? All aboard my dear readers, and join me as I see if this locomotion lives up to all the commotion – this is my review of Snowpiercer.

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On a Sarajevo street corner one hundred years ago, in the blink of an eye and two gunshots, the entire world was changed forever. An Austrian Archduke was dead by an assassin’s bullet, and he would be the first of millions to die in what would become the bloody opening act of the modern era.
archduke-franz-ferdinand-assassinationToday my dear readers, marks the centennial anniversary of the assassination of Archduke Franz Ferdinand of Austria and his wife by Serbian nationalist Gavrilo Princip, and the following diplomatic crisis that would result in the beginning of World War I a month later.

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It’s beginning to look like the NFL is going to have to play a game of political football before season’s kickoff this fall. The recurring controversy of the Washington Redskins chosen team name is back in the news again, this time because of a recent announcement by the US Patent and Trademark office to cancel the Redskins trademark. While some have hailed this is a decisive victory for supporters of a name change – though I’d be quick to point out this has happened before and nothing changed – all it seems to have successful done at the moment is to reignite one of the sports world’s nastiest debates.
Washington-Redskins-name-controversyThe ongoing debate over whether or not the Redskins need to change their name due to offensive connotations that the term “redskins” has toward Native Americans is an old one, with the earliest calls coming way back in the heyday of the team’s golden age back in the 1980s, and has popped up every several years since then. Supporters of changing the name claim that the Redskin label is a racial slur, while supporters of the team name claim the name as an homage to Native Americans. Politically, it has become a popular example in issues as diverse as lingering racist influence in American culture to the overreach and ridiculousness of political correctness. By and large however, though lines have been drawn, arguments and debates given, and very little has changed.

Of course, that’s because I haven’t given my opinion on the matter yet.

Now, in the interest of full disclosure, I’ll admit that I’m indifferent to the issue for the most part. As a Denver Broncos fan, unless Houyhnhnms take issue with our team name, I’ve got no dog in this fight. I feel there are far more important issues to deal with regarding the Native American community – more on that in a bit though. Plus, as a team, the Washington Redskins have far bigger concerns than what to call themselves.

With that out-of-the-way, let me begin by saying that I understand where both sides are coming from. I understand why one side feels it’s an offensive and outdated label, and why the other side feels that it’s a misguided overreach. That said, both sides need to take a look at the larger issue and the wider paradigm.

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I’m just going to cut right to the chase my dear readers – since I began reviewing movies in 2010 (has it really been that long?) How to Train Your Dragon remains perhaps the best movie I’ve seen during that period. It’s easily in my top ten favorite films of all time, and I’m far from the only one, with it being one of the most critically acclaimed animated films of all time, and offering something to love for every viewer. I could gush about the movie for hours, so needless to say, I’ve been looking forward to the sequel, How to Train Your Dragon 2.
how-to-train-your-dragon-2-posterSequels are hard enough without the original film being a masterpiece, but if there’s one thing Dreamworks has proven in past efforts, it’s that they can make fantastic follow-ups, which is certainly more than we can say of Pixar at his point. With much of the original cast and production crew back from the first film, with How to Train Your Dragon 2‘s major changes coming in the form of co-director Dean DeBlois taking full duties this time, and the addition of Cate Blanchett, Kitt Harington and Djimon Hounsou to the cast. Toss on a series of trailers that only turned the fires into a blaze, and How to Train Your Dragon 2 has the makings of a blockbuster, and hopefully, a sequel that does justice to the original.

So do we have another high-flying and hearty adventure with Hiccup and Toothless, or for the franchise will this just prove to be a toothless hiccup? Here there be dragons my dear readers, so take to the skies with me as I review How to Train Your Dragon 2.

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Discounting continued discussions surrounding the long-rumored and entirely unwanted remake of the original film, it’s been a really good time to be a fan of The Crow. The classic original graphic novel has its 25th Anniversary this year, while the classic movie based on it had its 20th Anniversary last month. A score of top-notch Crow miniseries have been released over the last couple years by IDW comics, taking the titular guiding spirit of vengeance on adventures from a near-future cyberpunk Tokyo where illegal medical experiments and Japanese mythology intermingle, aiding a murdered concentration camp inmate to strike fear into the heart of the Third Reich, to helping a detective solve the case of a murdered little girl. We’re even expecting the first series both written and drawn by Crow creator James O’Barr, The Crow Engines of Despair, to hit the stands soon. All in all, it’s a really good time to be a fan of The Crow.
the_crow_pestilenceThat’s not to say though that it’s been without some less exciting moments, again, the remake notwithstanding. Specifically, I’m referring to the latest Crow miniseries by IDW Comics, The Crow Pestilence, whose four-issue run has proven to be the first dud in the ongoing line of solid Crow comics.
The_Crow_Pestilence_openingWritten by novelist Frank Bill, the story follows a Mexican boxer named Salvador double crosses one of the cartels, who kill Salvador, along with his wife and young son. Revived by the Crow, Salvador begins hunting down the cartels in a quest for both revenge and repentance. While I haven’t read any of his other work, Bill’s work here is a complete mess, and the comic suffers as a result.

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