Goodness knows that a historical movie is right up my alley and Agora fits that bill. Agora is the fictionalized story of Hypatia, the philosopher living in Alexandria, Egypt at the end of the 4th century AD. Historical movies can be so much a hit or miss affair, it either works or it doesn’t, adapting a story for a two hour screenplay requires a balance between drama and emotion that reality does not always provide. Inject too much fiction and the story loses the very anchors that make it historical.  The Eagle is an example of this, it starts out as a historical, but ends up being just another adventure/action movie that just happens to be in Roman times: its a good movie, just not very historical. Agora largely avoids this pitfall by using the subtext of the dubious morals of the “Christians” under Bishop Cyril who take over the leadership of the city. From the Wiki:

Agora is a 2009 Spanish historical drama film directed by Alejandro Amenábar and written by Amenábar and Mateo Gil. The biopic starsRachel Weisz as Hypatia, a female mathematician, philosopher and astronomer in 4th century Roman Egypt who investigates the flaws of the geocentric Ptolemaic system and the heliocentric model that challenges it. Surrounded by religious turmoil and social unrest, Hypatia struggles to save the knowledge of classical antiquity from destruction. Max Minghella co-stars as Davus, Hypatia’s slave, and Oscar Isaacas Hypatia’s student Orestesprefect of Alexandria.

The story uses historical fiction to promote a “conflict thesis” interpretation of the relationship between religion and science amidst thedecline of Greco-Roman polytheism and the Christianization of the Roman empire. The title of the film takes its name from the agora, a gathering place in ancient Greece, similar to the Roman forum.

There is very heavy fictionalization in Davus and his relationship with Hypatia and her investigation of the heliocentric view of the solar system. The later is used as a story device in that finally unlocking the secret of elliptical orbits allows Hypatia to accept her fate at the hands of the parabalani thugs. Davus is a purely fictional character who is there to serve as a viewpoint character.

Agora is remineiscent of the old “sword and sandal” biblical movie like Ben-Hur. This seems to be intentional on the part of the director, as he studied these movies before starting the project. The care in creating the sets is obvious and lush visuals without obvious CG are perfect.

People my age will remember Carl Sagan waxing poetic as he told the story of Hypatia in the Cosmos TV series and indeed that is where the inspiration for this project comes from.

Rachael Wiesz and the others all turn in fine performances.

I love this movie, for its attack on reactionary fundamentalism and the setting. Highly recommended.


I picked up a copy of Matt Alt’s Yokai Attack! book recently, Folklore in general always interests me and since I picked up a copy of Reality Blur’s Iron Dynasty campaign setting to use for fantasy games set in old Japan with dark magic. Yokai Attack is an encyclopedia of monsters from Japanese superstition and tradition.

My favorite so far would be the neko-mata which are cats grown very old and which have gained paranormal powers. After a cat grows to a certain age its tail is said to split into two and the powers manifest. It is easy to imagine an random encounter for a group of adventurer’s in Iron Dynasty as meeting with a ferocious twin tailed cat who has the ability to raise and control the dead and has a taste for human flesh.

from the Wiki entry for bakeneko:

bakeneko (化け猫?, “monstercat“) is, in Japanese folklore, a cat with supernatural abilities akin to those of the fox or raccoon dog. A cat may become a bakeneko in a number of ways: it may reach a certain age, be kept for a certain number of years, grow to a certain size, or be allowed to keep a long tail. In the last case, the tail forks in two and the bakeneko is then called a nekomata (猫又?, or 猫股 “forked-cat”). This superstition may have some connection to the breeding of the Japanese Bobtail.

The connection between the folklore of the twin tailed monster cat and the Japanese bobtailed cats is one of those interesting crosses of superstition and reality.

47RoninI have been into a movie kick lately. For some reason I have been getting into samurai movies big time lately. There is a trend to make samurai flicks more dramatic, more human and get away from the “fountains of blood” approach prevalent in the 70s and 80s.

Watched Kon Ichikawa’s 47 Ronin over the weekend. Its the classic story of the Loyal 47 Ronin. (See the Wiki synopsis of the true story of the Asano ronin here) The revered story of devotion to duty and loyalty (giri in bushido) has been made into countless movies, TV shows, books, and manga. This particlar adaptation is well filmed but very quick, almost rushed. It jumps into the middle of the story and proceeds forward before suddenly bactracking to Lord Asano’s seppuku and their oath that starts the Chushingura story. It also rushes through several subplots with barely a pause for breath. best quote of the movie: “A samurai who doesn’t know accounting is useless.” The action gets rolling at the end and the pacing suits the story well as the battle unfolds. The editing of the battle in Kira’s compound needs some work as the movie fails to get a sense of layout of the mansion grounds across and the logic and planning that went into their attack is lost. All in all the styling and wonerful photography do redeem the movie along with very strong acting especially from Koji Ishizaka. I really want to know more of what happened in the story and plan on getting more on this historical event.

Every region that has seen human habitation has ruins that it can call its own. From Stonehenge in England to the Pyramids of Egypt.  The Ohio valley and the Midwest certainly prove this rule with the Indian mounds left by the Hopewell and Adena Indian cultures.  We took a day and went to the Fort Ancient Historical Site in SouthWestern Ohio. Spent the morning hiking around the site and the afternoon visiting the museum.

The Fort Ancient Site is a huge enclosure of earthworks on a plateau overlooking the Little Miami River gorge. The mounds of the walls cover almost 3 and a half miles of distance it is stunning to realize that this work was doen with only the simplest of tools.  From the OHS website:

Fort Ancient features 18,000 feet of earthen walls built 2,000 years ago by American Indians who used the shoulder blades of deer, split elk antler, clam shell hoes and digging sticks to dig the dirt. They then carried the soil in baskets holding 35 to 40 pounds. Portions of these walls were used in conjunction with the sun and moon to provide a calendar system for these peoples.

When you enter the Park the county road drives right between the two “Twin Mounds” at the entrance.

The enclosure is so huge and so overgrown that it is hard to get a feel at times for just how big it is. it is amazing to think that the the trees found growing on the mounds by the settlers and early explorers were over a hundred years old but there six or seven generations of trees that had grown there.

The museum is very well done with a nice garden showing the typical crops grown by the Hopewell Indians who made their home here and built these mounds.  The muddaub hut was amazingly cool inside. It was close to 90 outside and yet it felt like it was a cool 78 inside the hut.

More pics at my flickr set.