Thursday, November 10, 2011

Immortals: A Review

"Because I could not stop for Death,
He kindly stopped for me;
The carriage held but just ourselves
And Immortality."

Emily Dickinson

There are films like The Lord of the Rings trilogy that make me feel like it's perfect. Then, there are films like Tarsem Singh's Immortals that make me want to throw a hundred million dollars at it just so it can be perfected.

The premise guaranteed my ass in the audience. It's a swords-and-sandals epic featuring the Greek pantheon and their demi-divine champions; the original superheroes. And I don't ask for much. I just want a spectacle. I want fight sequences that make me go "HOLY SHIT!" every five minutes. I want depictions of the Greek gods in all their amoral, dysfunctional, psychopathic glory (the Disney-fied fatherly Zeus and motherly Hera cooing over Hercules made my eyes want to throw up, even as a kid). I don't care much for adherence to the stories per se but I do care about characterisations. In my opinion, the closest any modern work of fiction ever came to matching the vision of the Hellenic deities in the myths is Dan Simmon's Ilium/Olympos duology of sci-fi novels.

To enjoy Immortals, I had to basically overlook the fact that the Olympians were portrayed as basically benevolent, if neglectful gods. Done.

Immortals poster

The plot goes something like this: King Hyperion of the Heraklions is a misotheistic brute who sought the Epirus Bow, a weapon that can be used to free the Titans in order to make war on Zeus and co. The Chosen One is Theseus, a bastard and everyman who is really good at kicking ass. As the plot dictates, the gods themselves were conveniently forbidden to intervene in mortal affairs unless the Titans were actually unleashed because the film would have ended in the first two minutes otherwise. Zeus could have simply nuked the upstart god-killer wannabe from orbit.

Speaking of nuking from orbit, one of the most mind-blowing sequences you'll see from this film is Poseidon stepping off the edge of Olympus, plummeting thousands of feet at a (literally) screaming velocity into the sea and creating a freaking tsunami.

Henry Cavill was physically perfect for the role (and those people who cast him as Superman in Zack Snyder's upcoming film about the Man of Steel certainly thought he look heroic). What threw me off was how poorly his character was written. Theseus was traditionally thought of as a thinking man's Herakles who employs his cunning as much as his prowess in combat but in Immortals, he's just another flavourless well-muscled blockhead. It seemed to me that he had to be rescued by dei ex machina every time he strolls into a trap. Literally. He kept getting in situations that were way over his head and the gods have to power-bomb down to ancient Greece over and over again to bail him out.

I'm not necessarily complaining though. The gods are incredible to look at when they fight, and I simply could get enough of them. Differential slow motion was employed to show how blindingly fast the deities move in comparison to mortal, and when they go mano-a-mano with the newly emancipated Titans (who could move at the same lightning speed they do), Tarsem Singh did this interesting thing where slain combatants would fall or be flung away at slow motion while the fight continues to happen at normal or heightened speeds. Athena's sequences in particular illicited several gasps of awww-yeah! from my audience. I only wish that they had enough money to create blood and gore which look less bogus. And to allow the gods to keep their pimp-tastic gilded headgears in the final showdown. Seriously, the helms they put on at the end looked as if they came out of a plastic mold. Hell, if Tarsem had more money, he probably could have hired more than five actors to play the Olympians.

It also wouldn't be much of a spoiler for me to mention that the Minotaur made an appearance (a la Achilles' heel from the 2004 epic Troy in that it's just a really beefy guy in a freaky cow headgear) - since it's probably the original Theseus' most well-known exploit. Still, it didn't make much sense to me to have a realistic version of the labyrinth-dwelling half-bovine man-killer when there are clearly supernatural elements in play in Immortals, unlike in Troy where they consciously stripped all the unrealistic bits from the Trojan War. Theseus' fights were noteworthy as well and looked as if they were deleted scenes from 300. In fact, I'd go as far as to say that a couple of them even surpassed the action sequences in Zack Snyder's Spartan homoerotic brawl-fest.

Mickey Rourke was in excellent form here as would-be deicidic maniac and torture enthusiast (he had a brazen bull and everything), and the speech about what he was going to do to a defector gave me shudders. Freida Pinto played designated love/sex interest Phaedra, and her body too gave a stunning performance (which our Malaysian censors thoroughly scissored - bastards).

It's no great cinema but I certainly saw glimmers of greatness shining through parts of it. Is it due to studio interference? Likely, considering that one of the selling points they try to market this film on is that the producers of 300 were involved. Even so, I had a pretty good time being wowed by the bloody mayhem that Tarsem Singh managed to cobble together and like the sucker I am, I'll be right there when a sequel hits - if its blatant sequel hook actually keeps its promise. To sum it all up: Immortals is what Clash of the Titans should have been. There are actually titans clashing in this.

A graecophile from way back,
k0k s3n w4i

Tuesday, November 08, 2011

My First Successful Surgery

"Surgeons must be very careful
When they take the knife!
Underneath their fine incisions
Stirs the Culprit - Life!"

Emily Dickinson

Two of them, as a matter of fact.

I marvel at the achievements of our species which allowed me to cut a large hole into the abdomen of a living, breathing human being today and pull her newborn child right out of her into this world - which isn't a very impressive feat on its own. The fact that she's expected to survive the whole ordeal and would probably be discharged from the hospital in a couple of days is the amazing part.

I understand that most hospitals in Malaysia do not expect their house officers to perform Caesarean sections but where I'm serving, it's a mandatory procedure. My maiden major surgery was supervised by the nicest, coolest, and most fetching Medical Officer in the department who, coincidentally, shares the same name with the Long-Suffering Girlfriend™. My patient was a 37-year-old Bidayuh lady with a baby on board that (we suspect) grew a little too chubby to safely ooze out of her vagina.

To prep for it, I watched a series of instructional videos on the internet. Yes, in a government hospital, it's possible that you may be operated upon by a first-time surgeon who just learned how to do it overnight through YouTube. What, did you think we grow full-fledged specialists from cloning vats?

Alright, alright, I had also assisted in more than a dozen of these operations - so I sort of knew what I was doing. Besides, my awesome boss was standing by, ever-ready to take over the enterprise if the gravid mother on the table exploded or something (more likely than you think). I've replayed the steps in my head so many times that I actually started having recurring dreams of performing C-sects. And not all of them ended in conflagrations and macerated, finger-chomping, zombie babies.

I entered via a Joel-Cohen incision, and was surprised by how little mental resistance I encountered towards slicing a live human being open with a scalpel. This is coming from a guy whose closest experience to butchery was taking a table knife to a slab of medium-rare steak. Then, I proceeded to enter her abdominal cavity in layers; digging through her fat, splitting her muscles and snipping through her peritoneum. After identifying the lower segment of her womb, I cautiously made a transverse incision, exposing the bulbous amniotic sac which popped in a warm gush of liquor amnii. Seizing it by its head and neck, I extricated the infant from the uterine cavity in short order, cut its cord, and deposited its bawling ass into the hands of a waiting nurse. Booyah!

As per the patient's request, we tied off her tubes so she can never conceive again. Finally, came the tedious task of sewing the huge gaping wound I've inflicted into the woman's middle layer by layer. She was fully awake the whole time, of course, since she was only under spinal anaesthesia.

Anyway, I did far better than I thought I would. From "skin-to-skin", the surgery took a little more than an hour - 73 minutes to be precise - which was about twice as long compared to a C-sect performed by a more experienced surgeon. The estimated blood loss was only about half a litre; well below concern. I was in a celebratory mood so I bought everyone pizza. It's little victories like this that make my job fun.

P.S. In case I've painted an immodest and overly-competent picture of myself, I must remind you that my MO was coolly and patiently walking me through it from start to finish. I was so afraid that she would suddenly decide that I suck at it and finish the operation herself - but she didn't. Phew.

In and out again,
k0k s3n w4i