INTERTEXTUAL CURIOS, Part 1

Lost Season 1, Episode 1 > Berserk, The Golden Age Arc I – The Egg of the King, Episode 1

IVANHOE-2

Close-up on opening eyes. Counter shot of a blue sky. A flaming falling object appears all of a sudden in the frame. Sound familiar? They are the opening shots of J.J. Abrahams and Damon Lindelof’s hit show Lost, aptly referenced in the series finale, when Jack Shepard (Matthew Fox) comes to the end of his somewhat metaphysical journey. Apparently, Toshiuuky Kubooka, the director of Berserk: The Golden Age Arc I – The Egg of the Kin – the latest anime adaptation of Kentaro Miura’s manga Berserk – is a fan, as he opened his title with an animated equivalent of the same sequence, experienced by Guts, the mercenary protagonist of the narrative.

Carlo Verdone’s Al Lupo, al Lupo > Wes Anderson’s The Darjeeling Limited

Verdone’s comedy – not a comedy, Italian style of the golden age period (1958-1980), but an early 1990s comedy by the actor-director commonly referred to as “Alberto Sordi’s heir” – focuses on three estranged siblings looking for their missing father, a world famous sculptor. Allegedly, this film was the loose inspiration for Anderson’s ‘passage to India.’

Walter Scott’s Ivanohe > Bob Dylan’s ‘Changing of the Guards’

To my knowledge, this hasn’t been spotted by major dylanologists. “A messenger arrived”, “they shaved her head”, “The captain waits above the celebration sending his thoughts to a beloved maid”, “Gentlemen – he said – I don;t need your organization”… is it just me, or in more than one passage of the lyrics of the Street Legal opener Dylan references the section of Sir Walter Scott’s seminal historical novel, in which the Templar Knight Bois-Guilbert is about to renounce his order and his faith because of his sinful passion for Jewish dame Rebecca?

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I TRAVELED EACH AND EVERY HIGHWAY: BOB DYLAN – SHADOWS IN THE NIGHT

BOB

9/10

By @JackBoitani

Dylan’s latest album, Shadows in the Night, was released on February 3rd. Of course, I bought it and listened to it the very day. I had to wait almost two months to review it. Why? Simple. I had to convince myself that it was in fact as good as it sounded to me on that very first day, I had to make sure that my personal enthusiasm for anything Dylan related was not going to be an overwhelming factor in my judgement. With time, I thought, I would grow tired of it, I would have been able to see its defects. Two months later, I can say I am even more entangled with is timelessness than I was back then.

Let’s make things clear from the start: Bob Dylan is, no room for argument, among the 4-5 most important artists of the 20th century. Not the most important 4-5 songwriters, or singers, or musicians, or music performers… ‘artists’ across all disciplines… he’s up there, even when taking in consideration the myriad of filmmakers, poets, novelists, painters, dancers, photographers, etc. who made a significant mark on humanity’s legacy across the 1900-1999 period. You may not like him, his music, his public persona, but you cannot deny this basic fact: very few, in their own artistic discipline, or across multiple media, have been able to consistently produce such a critically revered and at the same time popular body of work with heights sprinkled across over 40 years of practice.

Most great artists emerge with a bang, and, if they are lucky, they then experience a revival, as they slightly reinvent their modus operandi, or their genre, across a career. Almost nobody holds such a vast number of aces from very different, scattered, time-spanning decks of cards like he does: The Freewheelin’ Bob Dylan (1962), and The Times They are a-Changin’ (1963) in the folk revival, civil rights arena of the early 60s, Bringing it All Back Home (1965), Highway 61 Revisited (1965), and Blonde on Blonde (1966) in the amphetamine-paced modernist mid-60s, John Wesley Harding (1968), Nashville Skyline (1969), and The Basement Tapes (1975) in the crystallization of roots music into the Americana genre and the foundation of country-rock, Blood on the Tracks (1974), and Desire (1975) in the eruption of Dylan emulating singer-songwriters of the 1970s, Oh Mercy (19870), and Time Out of Mind (1997) in the crepuscular blues tainted New Orleans sound-scapes of Daniel Lanois, Modern Times (2006), and Tempest (2012) in the context of the nostalgia driven balladry of the new recession. And scattered among all of these decade defining albums, a series of gem songs that almost defy categorization: spaghetti-western meets the Book of the Apocalypse (‘Knockin’ on Heaven’s Door’)? Sir Walter Scott meets Bruce Springsteen and the E-Street Band (‘Changing of the Guards’)? Early Sam Cooke meets David Lynch (‘Blind Willie McTell’)?

Successful artists would kill to have only one of these achievements pinned on their blazers. Singer songwriters we rightfully acknowledge in the Olympus of the Greatest for their longevity and versatility, like Neil Young, have been essentially able to reach great heights in two or three separate peaks in their career by alternating between two modes (drowsy heavy rock with Crazy Horse and acoustic bucolic country-balladry a la Harvest). Pretty much no one has been able to reinvent himself so often and be so good at it as Dylan has. By comparison, even someone as eclectic as Pier Paolo Pasolini or Prince, has been journeying on a pretty much straight line.

Almost all of this happened in the context of an immensely talented singer-songwriter, born Robert Allen Zimmerman in 1941, restlessly challenging his gift by measuring it against different strands of American ‘roots’ music, such as folk, 1950s rock and roll, country and western, even soul and gospel (Slow Train Coming, Saved, Shot of Love), the blues, bluegrass, and enriching these forms with biblical, symbolist, and beat poetry, in turn planting the seeds for new genres like punk (‘Maggie’s Farm’, ‘From a Buick 6′) and hip hop (all of the modernist takes on the tradition of talkin’ blues in the folk revival albums, ‘Subterranean Homesick Blues’). With Shadows in the Nights, Dylan, aged 73, disrupted even these very broad parameters.

What is Bob Dylan known for? Being an excellent songwriter with an extremely unconventional, some may say disturbingly unappealing, voice. What does he do? He records an album of covers (not one song written by him) of songs made famous by what is regarded to be the most conventionally beautiful male voice (Frank Sinatra’s), a song book associated with spectacle, elaborate productions, high society, the opposite of ‘roots’. Result? Quite simply, he kicks ass at it. If we already liked him, it may have taken us two months to make sure it was for real, if we didn’t like him it may have taken us some lip-biting to admit it, but he kicks ass at it. Sure, Dylan happened to celebrate Frank Sinatra for his 80th birthday by playing ‘Restless Farewell’, his own folk-revival dated ‘My Way’. And in recent years, he’s been doing some crooning on some of his own compositions such as ‘Bye and bye’ and ‘Moonlight’ (from Love and Theft), ‘Beyond the Horizon’ (Modern Times). He even covered a Dean Martin track for the Sopranos soundtrack (‘Return to Me’)! But a full album of Frank Sinatra covers is quite a left turn, considering that, even more than Elvis, Sinatra quintessentially represents everything that a Bob Dylan audience member from 1961 to 1977 despised.

Nonetheless, it’s easy to see where Dylan finds the appeal in Sinatra’s balladry. Shadows in the Night opens with ‘I’m a Fool to Want You’, a lover’s lament for his own incapability to leave, despite being aware of the loved one’s treacherousness. Thematically, this is the territory of Hank Williams’ ‘You Win Again’. And when Dylan hits the ‘time and time again, I said I’d leave you’ bridge, he could be easily referring to a number of love/hate statement songs in which he professed that it was all over with her (‘Don’t Think Twice, It’s Alright’, ‘It Ain’t Me, Babe’, ‘Positively 4th Street’, ‘Idiot Wind’), just to find himself back at square one, unable to go on without her (‘Isis’, ‘Love Sick’, ‘Life is Hard’, etc.)

And what’s more dylanesque than ‘The Night We Called It a Day’, i.e. singing a full song about the fact that there is nothing left to say about something? This is the same rhetorical maneuver that ‘Don’t Think Twice, It’s Alright’ (‘It ain’t no use to sit and wonder why’, he says while wondering in song), ‘Mr. Tambourine Man’ (‘there ain’t no place I’m going to’, he sings while begging to be taken some place), and ‘Boots of Spanish Leather’ (‘there is nothing you can send back to me’, except the items listed up front in the song title) are made of.

Yet, despite these linkages, Dylan swiftly and bravely steps in conventional, but for him very unexplored, territories of balladry: I mean, Jacques Prevert (‘Autumn Leaves’), Irving Berlin (‘What’ll I Do’)! And musically speaking too, the trumpet, French horns, the trombone! Instruments we rarely think about when we talk about the minimalism of Dylan albums, his ‘couple of takes max’ approach to recording, yet he makes fit so well with the bluesy playing style of long term collaborators Charlie Sexton (guitar) and Tony Garnier (bass guitar). But most of all, the singing: in Shadows in the Night Dylan, the quintessential awkward performer, sings in tune complex melodies, all the way from the first line of the opening track to the last note of ‘That Lucky Old Sun’ (when he goes out of tune on the last sustained word of the last verse, to remind you that this, after all, is a Bob Dylan record), like he had only done (on much simpler tunes) on Nashville Skyline over the course of his entire career. But that was still a young Dylan: the mood effect here, with 73 year old blues ridden vocal chords chasing Sinatra’s sonic subtleties, is completely different. On the vocal level, ‘Why Try to Change Me Now’ is one of the most remarkable Dylan takes ever.

Which takes us to another evolution of Dylan, the record producer. Just like Robert Allen Zimmerman invented Bob Dylan circa 1959, Bob Dylan invented Jack Frost, his record producing alter ego, in 2001 with the publication of Love and Theft, claiming that no one before this new, ethereal sound engineer, had figured out how to properly record his voice. Back then, this statement was received as a spiteful one, a gratuitous remark against Daniel Lanois, a producer Dylan did not get along with, who was often referred to by music critics as the savior who single-handedly pulled out of Dylan’s confused and at times controversial approach to recording albums (leaving ‘Blind Willie McTell’ off of Infidels, really Bob?) his only two masterpieces in two decades (Oh Mercy and Time Out of Mind). Yet Dylan was right. Considering what little vocal extension he’s got left to work with, with the exception of Together Through Life (2009), the “Jack Frost produced” albums are arguably the ones in which his voice sounds best.

In 2008, the documentary Down the Tracks: the Music that Influenced Bob Dylan was released in DVD. As broad as the spectrum of sources for Dylan’s inspiration cited in that film is, Shadows in the Night defies pretty much every statement made by the interviewees during the making of that recent documentary. If 2009’s Christmas in the Heart could be regarded as a divertissment delivered for philanthropic purposes, Shadows in the Night occupies a legitimate spot in Dylan’s oeuvre, at least as much as 1993’s World Gone Wrong, a collection of folk roots covers, does and, once again brilliantly and unexpectedly, redefines it.

MITHRAS AND LIBERTY

Mithras_vatican

By @jackboitani

“One is a powerful thought, and it comes with grief”
Told his students Mithras, the hidden God:
“I was born in the East, eastern than Greece,
Feeding on thought, the lively flood.
Seeking men’s reasoning I roamed,
In battlefields new kinds I found,
In eagle form,
As fights unwound;
I settled in Rome, the Wise Laurel Leaf,
But now I run from my martyrs’ blood.”

And so he stood and bid farewell,
Spread his eagle wings to flee
Ignoring that One would Rome soon compel
While he flew over the Atlantic sea.
He kept on keeping on:
No shadow, no land in sight;
To Boston
He led his flight.
He was stuck forever in his own spell:
An eagle was all that he would ever be.

He was shaken by the horrid discovery
Of the effects of the American breeze:
He could not fly back and then this mystery
That he would remain a God diseased,
Gliding towards the West,
Mourning his shape of old,
His quest;
In gold
Turned his tears of regret and misery
They seeped in the land between the two big seas.

The streams of buried metal mark his wandering
Seeking for a place where he could revert his shape
From Ohio to Missouri, from Dakota to Palm Springs,
To coastal California where grows the grape;
And the silent echo of his inconsolable cry
In the American people numerous tunes instills.
A God to die
On the Hollywood hills
Who would have thought? The lack of reasoning
Exhausted his divinity throughout his escape.

For the dwellers of that mighty continent
Were rather moved by the pursuits of the soul
And reasoning is not a need so immanent
When nature’s blessing is your ultimate goal;
So those folks didn’t feed Mithras’ glide
With idea, theories or reflections:
No stride
Of notions;
To them his flight was just a complement
To flocks of vultures forever on patrol.

But before Mithras died famished in LA
He spawned a numerous winged offspring
And over America many of his children flew astray
To feed on the land’s more tangible offerings.
So he gained with his heirs’ new line
The years his own life couldn’t persist:
The eagle’s sign
Resists.
And this is why America to this day
Keeps the Roman symbol on its wings.

In ancient Greece an immortal woman was born
Known by some as Athena by some as Liberty;
She lived in the city by her name adorned
Inspiring the masters of Science and Philosophy.
Every time Athens was threatened by war
She turned into a statue of marble or stone,
So her core
Remained unknown;
She knew a frozen woman, looked at with scorn
Was not going to be a prey craved by the enemy.

But this strategy failed when a Roman soldier
Had the statue removed for his love of Art.
He knew in Italy he could have sold her
In exchange for land and a brand new start.
Thus her Greek stay was disturbed,
She became Rome’s Goddess of the Just
And the mighty Urbs
Grew robust;
And while she cursed the man who poached her
Here she found the One who took her heart.

Alas it was with Mithras that she fell in love,
His single deity threatened by her very existence
‘Cause she claimed to be one of many who lived above
Thus to her desire he opposed a magic resistance:
Each time he turned into an eagle in search for thought
All of a sudden she fell into the deepest sleep;
She sought
To keep
Being close to him enough to get a hold of
The One before he gained in flight a new distance.

When Mithras left due to the Empire’s persecution
She slept throughout his ages long flight
Then awoke and unaware of his migration
She thought he had flown from fight to fight.
She roamed in reigns marked by Cross
And with each of her steps Europe found its rebirth:
New thoughts,
Centuries worth.
As she led her journey with the resolution
That one day he’d be back in her sight.

In Athens and Rome she had led wise men to believe
The Earth was flat and the Atlantic sure to soak
Those who would a sail across it conceive
So as to keep their citizen safe from far away folk.
But when she realized Mithras must had gone that way
She freed the wise from her deceitful haze:
So they may
Better gaze
For new stars in the skies to be retrieved
So she could sail with the brave towards New York.

As a statue she boarded the Italian’s ship
For his first sail to the unknown world
Placed for good fortune on the vessel’s tip;
When they landed her new quest unfurled:
As European folk started founding new villages
She mixed among them for her loved One’s search,
A pilgrimage
Lit by torch;
And she was later portrayed with one in her grip
To welcome those who followed her, the bold.

As her look out for the One progressed
She grew tortured by anxiety
And thus the American people became possessed
By an unmeasured pursuit of democracy,
By a notion of freedom somewhat faulted,
It brought both good and bad, it seems:
It resulted
In extremes;
And so America was with great ideals caressed
But also hit with evils such as slavery.

She arrived in California where Mithras one stood
Before he faced the mortals’ end
And she kept searching for him in Hollywood,
His death she couldn’t comprehend.
And so she looked out for a sign
If Mithras was going to leave a trace;
Sixty-nine:
“Into space,
That’s where he must be!”, she understood
And she left Earth to find her heart’s friend.

So now Liberty lives on the Moon
Still looking for Mithras the One
And it’ll never be too soon
When she realizes that he’s gone;
For mankind has become a mess
Since she has left this surface:
No progress,
No purpose;
Maybe she’ll be summoned by this tune
To look after us, the One’s first spawn.

As for Mithras, who knows if he had realized
Gazing at the stars upon his dying time
He had escaped for years the Dame idolized
Who had given men’s reasoning its prime.
And that the substance of his Godly nourishment
Would have been endless if her pagan love he had requited,
That his punishment
He had invited.
Just like men he had pursued One truth idealized,
Overlooking her, the attainable sublime.

GREATEST CAUTION: SAINT SEIYA LEGEND OF SANCTUARY

CZ-AIORIA-1

7/10

@JackBoitani

English speaking readers may not be very aware of the crucial positioning that the manga and anime Saint Seiya (a.k.a. Knights of the Zodiac) occupy in popular culture, as this title – created by Masami Kurumada in 1986 – experienced a considerably late (2000s) release both in print and television in the United Kingdom and the United States. However, throughout their original runs – between the late 1980s and early 1990s – the Shonen manga and the Toei Animation cartoon following Athena warrior Seiya became a crucial installment in a generation’s collective imagination, not just for the Japanese audience, but also for French, Italian, Spanish and South American consumers of visual narratives. Saint Seiya may not matter that much to you if you were raised in England, the U.S. or Canada, but if you grew up in continental Europe, South America, or South East Asia and were born between 1975 and 1990, an adaptation into film of this title may come with the same set of expectations that Peter Jackson’s filmic rendition of J.R.R. Tolkien’s The Lord of the Rings was burdened with in the eyes of the global audience.

The original Saint Seiya series follows 5 orphans, who have been gathered and raised by a foundation owned by a Japanese billionaire, Mitsumasa Kido, for the purpose of training as warriors and gaining the honor of becoming Athena’s ‘saints’. Saints – Kido learned – have been protecting justice on behalf of the Greek Goddess Athena since mythological times, and have done so by awakening the power of the cosmos (a residual portion of energy from the Big Bang that gave birth to the universe, which lives within every human being – a concept not too dissimilar from Star Wars‘s ‘force’) and wearing ‘cloths’ (holy armors that represent the constellation each saint is protected by and are equipped with amazing powers by the blood of the Goddess Athena).

The 5 saints the original series focuses on are the fearless Seiya (Pegasus Saint), the wise Shiryu (Draco Saint), the cold Hyoga (Cygnus Saint), the generous Shun (Andromeda Saint) and the raging Ikki (Phoenix Saint). All 5 of them are ‘bronze’ saints, which means that they belong to the lower class of Athena warriors, ‘silver’ and ‘gold’ saints being equipped with stronger cloths and being capable of awakening the power of their cosmos to fuller extents. In the original series, the 5 orphans find out that an impostor has been posing as the Grand Pope, Athena’s high priest in the Greek sanctuary where most saints are trained, and that in fact this impostor has attempted to murder, 13 years before the events in the saga take place, the latest incarnation of Athena, whom Mitsumasa Kido adopted and put at the helm of his foundation.

The Grand Pope’s agenda is to annihilate the 5 ‘rebel’ saints and murder the now teenage Athena/Saori Kido, leveraging his army of silver and gold saints, who don’t suspect his betrayal. Eventually, the 5 bronze saints and Saori Kido travel to Athens to unmask the impostor Pope, and to do so they have to defeat the 12 gold saints, the mightiest warriors of Athena, who protect the 12 Houses of the Zodiac which lead to the Pope’s chambers. Eventually Pegasus Seiya is allowed to wear the gold Sagittarius cloth – once worn by Aiolos, the Greek saint who saved Athena from the Pope’s original murder attempt and put her, as a newborn baby, in the hands of Mitsumasa Kido – and manages to defeat the Pope, who is revealed to be impersonated by Saga, the double-personality disorder burdened Gemini saint.

In other Saint Seiya series, the saints fight holy warriors led by Poseidon and by Hades, Gods who want to overtake Athena and rule the earth.

Since the early 2000s, the Saint Seiya franchise has experienced a rebirth, as prequels (Saint Seiya: The Lost Canvas; Saint Seiya: Episode G) and sequels (Saint Seiya Omega) have appeared in either print, screen, or both.
I fell in love with Saint Seiya between the ages of 7 and 12, reading the manga, watching the cartoons, playing with the toys. Drawing Seiya and Ikki was all I did in class for those 5 years. But it stayed with me forever, and even in periods of my life in which my interest was peaked by other types of visual narratives (Marvel superheroes, graphic novels, Italian film comedies, American and European film history classics), or by other media altogether (music), I kept revisiting it. Judging from the number of spin-offs available on the market, the huge web presence of its characters, the astronomic prices at which new, improved action figures are being sold, I think it’s a fair statement to say that I am not the only one: unlike other titles from my childhood, Saint Seiya is a franchise that stays with you and its impact is durable.

At times, revisiting the original series, in either the manga original or the cartoon adaptation, I thought that the whole initial part of the narrative, taking place in Japan as the bronze saints are taking part in a tournament organized by the Kido foundation and are eventually attacked by a number of saints sent over from Greece, was a necessary drag. Kurumada had to set up the narrative, establish that the stakes were high, but it was a lot of time wasted for episodes that had nowhere near the emotional impact of the fights with the gold saints in the 12 Houses of the Zodiac. That part, I always thought, is the emotional essence of Saint Seiya.

Of course, faced with the constraints of making a 100 minute film adaptation, the Saint Seiya: Legend of Sanctuary filmmakers did precisely what I unknowingly wished for when I had those thoughts, ie. they limited the spectrum of the original narrative they were going to cover in this rendition to ‘the essence’, the 12 Houses. And of course, as astute of a maneuver it is, what I wished for works only in part. In Tomohiro Suzuki’s adaptation for full-feature film, the narrative opens with Aiolos’ escape from the Sanctuary and Mitsumasa Kido’s discovery of the existence of the saints and adoption of the reincarnated Athena. Cut to Saori Kido who is now 16 years old and being driven somewhere important, and is all of a sudden attacked by silver saints sent from the Sanctuary, and only now learns about who she is and what this is all about. Seiya, Shiryu, Hyoga and Shun appear out of nowhere to protect her and pledge their allegiance to Athena, whom they are going to protect from the Pope’s attacks. In a matter of seconds they decide to go in person to the Sanctuary.

This choice (very understandable, as it is the fastest way to move the narrative to the 12 Houses of the Zodiac as fast as possible) creates a problem: unlike what happened in the manga and cartoon, it is through Saori’s eyes – and not Seiya’s – that we learn who saints are, what they do, etc. This makes the central trait of Seiya’s character – his utmost faith in Saori/Athena, which leads him to always stand back up in fight, no matter how close he is to the last stretch – unjustifiable and almost irrelevant, while in the original narrative this blind faith, matured over the ‘necessary drag’ narrative set up, is precisely what allows him to overcome opponents who are way stronger, like the gold saints.

There are also a series of changes made in the 12 fights in the Houses of the Zodiac that are carried out to shorten the time-frame the events in the original narrative would occupy. For example, gold saints Virgo Shaka, and Scorpio Milo, who were protagonists of some of the most memorable duels in the manga and the cartoon before convincing themselves of the Pope’s betrayal, learn the error of their ways in a matter of seconds in the film adaptation, no duel required. This does not only make the 5 bronze saints’ overall journey through the Sanctuary appear way easier to the viewer, it also presents a problem in wrapping up the film’s conclusion: if so many of the powerful gold saints are aware of the Pope’s betrayal, why don’t they join forces and beat him easily (as he is one gold saint against many)? Of course, if one resolved the film this way, importance would be taken away from the figures of the 5 bronze saints, who are supposed to be the protagonists. So screenwriter Suzuki occupies the ‘redeemed’ gold saints in a fight with a massive statue, brought to life by the corrupt Pope, while Seiya fights the Gemini saint/Pope himself and defeats him on his own against all odds. Which leads to the ‘sneak eating its tail’ question: “if you had time to spare to put the gold saints in a fight that didn’t exist in the original narrative, why not represent more of the original fights instead?”

Another questionable choice is the fact that in the film adaptation the Sanctuary is represented as an ethereal entity in the sky, rather than a temple hidden in Athens’ Acropolis, as in the originals. This choice undermines one of the most convincing aspects of the narrative involving hundreds of saints based in the Sanctuary not opening their eyes to the ways of the corrupt Pope and not believing Saori Kido’s claim of being the reincarnation of Athena: the somewhat nationalistic discourse implied in having warriors trained in Greece and being the heirs of a thousands of years old Greek tradition not wanting to believe these new Saints and this new Goddess who all of a appear in Japan.

Some notes on the visual aspects of the adaptation: the film is entirely CG animated, there are no actors in the flesh. In the context of this choice, which may alienate some viewers, director Keiichi Sato achieves amazing things: the stunning energy developed by the saints’ cosmos, the scale of duels that destroy massive buildings that have been standing for more than two-thousand years and end up into space are rendered in digital photography like I could only dream of when I was reading the manga or watching the cartoon in my childhood. The overall science-fiction meets ancient Greek sculpture aesthetic of the original series is respected while adjourned for today’s audiences, with particular attention in the visual rendition of the cloths (all stunningly beautiful and believable as mythological objects that can be at the same time worn in battle today – the only complaint here would be the Power Rangers-like closing of the helmets into full on masks).

Over all, Saint Seiya: Legend of Sanctuary is a solid action film that does with the source material exactly what it is supposed to do given the restraints it faces: delivering the essential narrative of a long serial in a 100 minute feature length film. There are defects, but the only realistic way to overcome them and do things different, would have been gambling on splitting the narrative into three films to be produced without knowing what kind of response the first one would have gained from critics and public, like Peter Jackson did with The Lord of the Rings (and should have not done with The Hobbit, as the narrative in the novel didn’t require such length for the filmic version/s).

Having decided not to make such gamble, the shortcomings of the Saint Seiya adaptation are visible but unsolvable: the ceremonial pace that gave the battles in the 12 Houses of the Zodiac their solemn dimension has to be let go of, and so are crucial corollary characters (eg. Seiya’s teacher Eagle Marin) and the narratives outside of the feud between Kido and the Pope, which ’rounded’ the characters of the 5 saints (Seiya’s search for his missing sister, Hyoga’s mourning for his dead mother in Siberia, Ikki’s ‘journey to hell’ while training for the Phoenix cloth in place of Shun, etc.). In a 100 minute long hop from Aries, to Taurus, to Leo, to Virgo, the film can seem to a superficial viewer like a bunch of booms and bangs that don’t make any sense. In a way it’s true… I care about these 5 CG’d boys only because I remember how much I cared for the 5 inked characters who I spent much more time with, there’s not much in the way the narrative has to be dealt with in the film itself that makes me care… but I also understand why that is, I am aware of the constraints, and, thinking about it, Saint Seiya: Legend of Sanctuary is an ‘average’ among the action films I’ve seen, but what the filmmakers accomplished given the task they had in front of them (mainly when it comes to the disproportion between narrative length and duration) is somewhat remarkable.

GLEANING FILMS FOR 2014

maps

Best Comedy and Film of the Year

Wes Anderson, The Grand Budapest Hotel

In what is his most ‘narratively framed’ film to date, Anderson lets his passion for the visually stunning and quirky run wild as he pays tribute to the Prussian-state-of-mind iconography of Eastern Europe of yesterday.

Best Foreign Film

Nuri Bilge Ceylan, Winter Sleep

The Turkish film, deserving winner of the Palm d’Or at Cannes.

Best Drama

David Cronenberg, Maps to the Stars

Cronenberg wears a Robert Altman/early P.T. Anderson disguise and delivers a multi-character, sprawling narrative about celebrity, ego, trauma in star-filled Los Angeles. Julianne Moore excels and Mia Wasikowska revisits the peaks she had reached with HBO’s In Treatment.

Best Animated Film

Phil Lord and Christopher Miller, The Lego Movie

Fun for all the ages, in all possible configurations.

Best Documentary

Steve James, Life Itself

Filmmaker James explores that touchy subject, the film critic, with a tribute to Roger Ebert’s career.

COMEDY HEIGHTS OF 2014

By @jackboitani

NY-CU605_BROAD_G_20140121180044

Best British Comedy Series

Toast of London, Series 2

At the end of Series 1 we asked ourselves: “can anything be weirder than this?” Yes…

Best American Comedy Series

Broad City, Season 1

By far, the funniest thing of the year… Girls who?

Best Animated Comedy Series

South Park Season 18

I’d like to find a contender… but it just keeps getting better and better… structurally speaking the most intricate season so far

Best Sketch Comedy Series

Key and Peele Season 4

The not-so-great stand-up routines between hilarious sketches have been replaced with a talking shit while driving segment reminiscent of True Detective. Now, it’s almost perfect.

Best Comedy Feature Film

Wes Anderson, The Grand Budapest Hotel

A masterpiece.

Best Stand-up Special

Hannibal Buress, Live From Chicago

Between being the whistle-blower and playing classy cameos in hit Broad City, Buress delivered a top notch special.

MUSIC PICKS FOR 2014

By @JackBoitani

140719-conor-oberst-you-are-your-mothers-child-video

Best Video

Conor Oberst – You Are Your Mother’s Child

Nostalgia, the shadows of early low-fi music videos, a vintage color palette and surrealism a la Where the Wild Things Are merge in this video for one of the most touching ballads from Oberst’s Upside Down Mountain

Best Single

Hozier – Take Me to Church

A climaxing roller coaster of Gothic Americana that took over the charts.

Best Compilation Album

The New Basement Tapes – Lost on the River

Elvis Costello, Jim James and co. unite in a studio to bring to life their visions of how some unrecorded Dylan lyrics from 1967 may have informed songs echoing within the walls of Big Pink.

Best Soundtrack

Various Artist – Transparent OST

It’s not the soundtrack to a movie, but to a tv show – the best tv show of the year – and it doesn’t exist as a record, only as an Amazon mp3 download bundle, but we allow the exception… it’s just that good.

Best Reissue Album

Bob Dylan & The Band – The Basement Tapes Complete

The entire body of surviving recordings from Big Pink 1967, in their integral form (no overdubs). A must.

Best New Album

Beck – Morning Phase

We waited 12 years for the sequel to Sea Change, an album that is easily among the best 5 released in the 2000-2009 decade. And the sequel is almost as good.