The Anglofilmia guide to Summer 2010 historical films

Summer is a time for relaxing by the pool, margarita in hand, Pet Sounds, Wilco and Vampire Weekend on the ipod, breathing in the faint odors of chlorine and sunscreen and lime. Or, if you’re unlucky enough to not be a student or a teacher, it’s a time for working indoors under florescent lights in a building with windows that don’t open. (Guess which one I’ll be doing?)

It’s also a time for theatre releases of the best and worst movies of the year.

Many of my summers as a teen were spent escaping the Texas heat in the blasts of A/C and stale popcorn offered by our many local theatres. It often didn’t matter what was showing, going to the theatre was the point, and that’s my only excuse for seeing House of Wax in cinemas, god help me.

It was also where I honed my taste in films. In high school and college, there were three indie screens in my immediate neighborhood, so I got to take in a lot of limited release pics and special midnight screenings of films I’d never otherwise have been exposed to. I loved piling into the car late on a Friday, full of all those teen feelings of freedom in the hot, quiet night, and heading over to the Inwood to watch Bottle Rocket, or City of Lost Children, or Following.

To this day, I get the same thrill whenever I go to a midnight showing the day before a great film is released. (Toy Story 3 this Thursday at 12:01am, holla!)

I’m mostly ambivalent about the Summer 2010 cinema offerings, but as far as historical fare goes, there are some okay options for moviegoers — though I still lament that there are so few films set in pre-history or pre-Roman Britain.

At least this handful of flicks is taking a stab at history, even if their aim is a bit off.

First up is Centurion, set in 117 AD:

From the trailer, I gather that the film focuses on the last stand of the invading Ninth Legion against the native Picts, and while I applaud the depiction of a lot of kick-ass women warriors, I suspect the film sides with the Romans in the end.

Funnily, Dominic West is one of the stars — he’s been in a lot of historical films and serials lately, but it’s still always strange to hear him using his natural British accent instead of the American one he put on for The Wire.

Anyway, reviews of Centurion have been pretty savage, garnering it a mere 50% on Rotten Tomatoes. I’m not too keen on this one, as others have recommended the 1977 BBC television adaptation of the novel “Eagle of the Ninth” (and another film version of that story will be released in September this year), but I may have to suffer through it for the sake of the project.

US release date: 23 July (Video On Demand), 27 August (cinemas)
UK release date: 23 April

Next is Agora, set in 391 AD.

Agora is the fictionalized story of real-life Greek philosopher Hypatia during the clash between Roman paganism and Christian forces in Alexandria, Egypt.

This one is a lot more appealing to me, despite its Rotten Tomatoes reviews (currently it’s at 56%, yowch). I love Rachel Weisz, the city of Alexandria is depicted using real sets and not just CGI (plus they show the sacking and destruction of the library), and I think the premise is pretty interesting — more than just an argument between religion and science. I like the idea that while all of this is happening down here on earth, time and time again, the stars that Hypatia studied remain the same.

“I kept saying the movie is about astronomy and I wanted to express concepts that we study in school—science, mathematics—that don’t show how fascinating the topic is [the way the subjects are taught in modern education]. I wanted to translate [man’s] fascination with the pursuit of knowledge. I wanted to show astronomy and those who study it in the most appealing way. Those are the real heroes of the movie.”
– director Alejandro Amenábar

US release date: limited, possible wide release in December
UK release date: 23 April

Then comes the newest incarnation of Robin Hood, set in the reign of King Richard I (between 1189 and 1199).

So, Maximus is in ye olde England, kickin’ butt in that same flippy frame rate as Gladiator and Saving Private Ryan. This version of Robin Hood seems to focus more on his time as a crusader, but it’s hard to tell, what with all the rockin’ guitars.

I wasn’t too excited when this first came out in May, and it’s only got 44% on Rotten Tomatoes. Might be worth seeing when it hits the dollar theatre, if nothing else is on.

US release date: 14 May
UK release date: 12 May

And finally, Black Death, set sometime around the 1340s.

Starring Sean Bean and that kid who played Angel Clare in the 2008 version of “Tess of the D’Urbervilles” as various religious figures who go to a small village to investigate why it alone has been spared the taint of the Bubonic plague.

It looks like a zombie movie, or at least a horror film filled with creepy violence and torture, which is a big turn-off for me. I mean, consider the last images in the trailer: Man being drawn by ropes. Woman saying, “Crucify them all.” Man screaming, “I’ll slice you open!” Ick.

But so far, reviews are limited, but fair — 67% on RT. And at least two compare it to The Wicker Man…making it extremely tempting. I’ll wait til I hear about the levels of gore, as I am definitely NOT okay with seing guts and their spillage, but this one has potential…if I can find a copy, since I’m not sure it’ll actually be released in the US.

US release date: Unknown
UK release date: 11 June


Want to get into that summer state of mind? Here are two playlists from StereoMood, an internet radio station with stellar playlists based around moods and emotions:

Mood: Summer

Mood: Sunny day