Thursday, May 31, 2007

MSCU Review: "Beowulf and Grendel"

Thorkel: The Celt says that Jesus Christ never sleeps, that he walks amongst us.

Beowulf: Oh, that's all we need, a god gone mad from lack of sleep.

Well, this movie seemed like it really wanted to have some kind of message. Unfortunately it just couldn't make up its mind so it settled for several right out of the Big Bag O' Cliches.

It seems to want to suggest that:

a. Christianity is bad
b. Powerful women are repressed and marginalized by society
c. Minorities are scape-goated by the ruling orders of society

Hey, do you know what all of these themes have in common? You guess it: NONE OF THEM APPEAR IN BEOWULF. I'm all for examining the prejudices of society, but why does this movie feel like it needs to abuse its source material to do so? Moreover, why does this movie decide to examine these themes with the subtlety of a sledge-hammer? A little nuance would have been greatly appreciated. The Catholic priest in the movie is little more than a caricature , a two-dimensional stock character on which the movie attempts to build an argument than Christianity is bad. It seems to want us to sympathize with Grendel, yet he consistently murders men for no apparent reason. There isn't a single character who I found interesting in the least.

And the tone of the movie, it makes Tristan + Isolde look like a sunlit walk in the park. The movie is drab and dour and completely devoid of any sense of fun. My single biggest criticism of Medieval movies is that they take themselves far too seriously. Each character in the movie feels as if he or she has to look miserable the entire time. Moreover, the film is almost devoid of any bright colours, making it look overly bleak. One quickly tires of the muted grey/green/brown/blue colour pallet and hopes for the occasional splash of colour.

As for the acting, most of the male characters feel as if they have to speak in garbled accents, making them overly difficult to understand. And for whatever reason the director decided to add some rather anachronistic swearing which really took me out of the moment. Such modern swearing did not seem to fit the tenor of the film.

At the end of the day this film tries to say many things, saying none of them very well. It raises complex issues with little or no subtext or subtlety. When this is combined with an utter disregard for the source material, unappealing characters, unimpressive cinematography, unusual dialogue, this makes for a completely un-recommendable movie.
MSCU Rating: D

The 'J' Word

Advertising is one job opportunity for Medievalists. It requires critical thinking, creativity and a sense of humour. You'd be surprised just how many ads evoke the Middle Ages. Degrees in Medieval Studies don't necessarily have to lead to academic careers.

For more examples of Medieval ads check out these links:

The 'J' Word

This is a new feature for the blog. I'm sure that I'm not alone in this. Whenever I tell people what I'm studying at university I always get the same reaction: "Oh... er... what job will you get with that" (if we were speaking Latin I'm sure that they would use iste for 'that').

People seem to think that Medievalists don't have very many job possibilities. In fact, there are a lot of jobs out there which would benefit from workers with Medieval backgrounds. From time to time we will post examples of such jobs.

Perhaps the 'J' word should no longer be dreaded.

MSCU Review: "A Knight's Tale"

He Will Rock You

Now I know this may irreparably destroy my moving reviewing credibility, but I love this movie. It's big, goofy, dumb and just plain fun. I watch movies for many reasons, one of them is to be entertained: A Knight's Tale is too silly not to be entertaining.

Throw any historical knowledge you may have out the window and watch this odd little flick. Chaucer? Who needs him? Not when you have Queen's We Will Rock You in the Middle Ages. Come on, you know that if they had Queen six hundred years ago they totally would have been rocking him out.

Let me be the first to admit, this movie is not for everyone. I completely understand those people who hate this movie. After all it does kind of have not historically redeeming value. But at the same time you can tell nearly everyone involved had a good time making it. I'd rather watch a movie where the actors are having fun, than watch one where everyone involved is taking themselves far too seriously (I'm looking at you Tristan + Isolde).
Like Tristan + Isolde, A Knight's Tale has leads who look a lot better than they can act. Both Heath Ledger and Shannyn Sossamon spend the majority of the film standing around and looking pretty. But the secondary characters shine. Paul Bettany gives a wonderfully over-the-top performance as the gambling addicted Geoffery Chaucer. Mark Addy and cult icon Alan Tudyk give memorable performances as the protagonist's friends. Even James Purefoy makes a brief appearance to sizzle up the stage. If you ever rent the DVD, make sure that you listen to the feature commentary which features Paul Bettany and the director. The two men sound like old friends. Bettany's recounting of his nude scenes is a riot, plus he teaches the audience a new use for duct tape.

In addition to some ham-fisted performances, this film does a surprisingly good job at capturing the visceral impact of jousting. The action sequences in the film are well shot and pick up the pace of the movie. It is a rather pretty movie. The sets look appropriately Medieval and the extras are smeared with adequate amounts of muck, making them look suitably Medieval. The sound track which features mostly classical rock drew the most criticism of all. I personally don't mind it. All too often historical movies have no sense of fun or whimsy, featuring dour orchestral soundtracks. The odd sound track matches the overall direction of the film: a silly sound track for a silly movie.

At the end of the day A Knight's Tale is a fun and very strange movie of little artistic or intellectual merit. Those looking for some mindless and stupid fun should give it a look. Those with little or no sense of humour would best look elsewhere.

MSCU Rating: B+

MSCU Review: "Tristan + Isolde"

Tristan: "There is a burning in me I feel on fire, and there's guilt I can't comidify. Does it make you happy to know that?"

Now I could literally sit here and nitpick this movie all day; to say that it's flawed is an understatement near the size of the Carolingian Empire (a little Medieval humour there for you). But, for the life of me, I cannot bring myself to loathe this movie. The movie succeeds at being thoroughly mediocre.

My single biggest complaint with the movie is that it's completely lifeless. The quote and image I've posted are exemplary of just how wooden the whole movie feels. Both the dialogue and the main leads (James Franco and Sophia Myles) are lifeless at best and boring at worst. Franco brings the act of pouting to new and unexciting heights, while Myles manages the stunning task of being both pretty and boring.

The movie's tag-line reads: Before Romeo & Juliet, there was... Tristan + Isolde (as an aside, notice how the title shameless emulates Baz Luhrmann's far superior Romeo + Juliet). This film desperately touts itself as an epic of love, yet the main leads have no romantic chemistry. Their sex scenes show little to no passion, making a Dr Haskett class seem more racy by comparison. At one point in their initial love scene Franco asks Myles how she feels, she responds with "I don't know." Honestly she wasn't the only one, I couldn't tell if she was actually enjoying herself or mentally conjugating Latin verbs. Outside of sexual trysts the two great lovers have very little interaction causing one to wonder why they are even attracted to each other. In other words, their 'epic' love seems as shallow and vapid as the two actors appear.

And to top it all off the history of the movie is laughable. While I fully admit that I've not read the original Tristan and Isolde in its entirety, this movie shows little regard for any historical accuracy. Historical realism has never been a major draw for me (I love A Knight's Tale for heaven's sake), but this movie seems like one Medieval cliche after another. It begins with captions ominously announcing the "dark ages." At this point it felt more like a Monty Python movie than anything else.
At the end of the day, Tristan + Isolde does a great many things poorly yet it never manages to spiral completely into the gyre of horridness. Had the main leads had even a spark of chemistry the movie may had been saved from mediocrity, but alas, it was not so. While I cannot recommend this movie, I cannot say that it should be avoided completely. It's certainly very pretty to look at; that has to be worth something... right?

MSCU Rating: C

MSCU Movie Reviews

Today we reveal a brand new regular feature for the blog: MSCU Movie Reviews. Motion pictures have long tried to capture the Middle Ages, mostly with questionable results. In this new feature MSCU executive members will give their thoughts on various movies which relate to the Middle Ages.

As for our grading scheme we will follow the same format as the Medieval Studies Department (I'd post a link to a break down of it, but for the life of me I cannot find one online. If you know where to find one please post the link as a comment).

Look for new movie reviews to arrive shortly.

Wednesday, May 30, 2007

Latin Study Group Update

The time and date for the MSCU Latin Study Group (LaSt) has been finalized for the time being. Unless there are any strong objections LaSt will be meeting every Thursday between 7:30 and 9:30 pm. This would mean that the next meeting will be held on Thursday June 7th in Clearihue B215. We will be using Wheelock's Latin and the 38 Latin Stories to start with, more complex material may be introduced as we progress. People are encouraged to find supplemental materials for the group to use.

IMPORTANT: Please reply if you intend to join LaSt. If for any reason you cannot attend these meetings but would like to please let us know and we can attempt to re-schedule.

And on behalf of the MSCU a special thanks goes out to Madeleine who has graciously offered to lead the LaSt as our resident senior Latinist. A curriculum will be drawn up soon and sent out.

We hope to hear from you soon,

Saturday, May 26, 2007

Announcing the MSCU Research Collective

This summer the MSCU will be holding a Student Research Collective (SReCo). The SReCo will give students a chance to come together and discuss their own research on a topic of their choosing. In order to give some degree of uniformity to the SReCo, there will be a single unifying theme to link the disparate research.

The theme of this summer's SReCo is: History in the Middle Ages. This theme relates to how history was seen in the Middle Ages. Students will attempt to answer the question of how the Medieval viewed, recorded and remembered the past and how these views shape our understanding of the period. Students may pick any topic for their research as long as it can be related to the theme.

The first meeting of the SReCo will be on Wednesday, June 13th at 6:30 in Clearihue B215. This is a fairly informal research collective, students are encouraged to attend any meetings they want. At these meetings we will discuss our ideas and learn from each others' unique perspectives.

The SReCo will culminatewith a small conference in the end of August (the date will be announced). In this conference students will be encouraged to give papers presenting the findings of their research. Only students will wish it will have to give papers More information on this conference will be provided closer to the event.

If you'd like any more information, please send us an email or leave a comment. We hope to see you at our first meeting. If you know anyone interested please bring them along.

Be the first to join LaSt

In addition to the regular MSCU events, this summer the Medieval Studies Course Union will be running an informal Latin Study Group (LaSt).

LaSt is an informal, study run and organized Latin studying collective. We welcome people of all experience. So far we have students who completed first-year Latin, second-year Latin, third-year Latin and students with no Latin experience at all. No matter your experience with the language, you are welcome.

If you're thinking about starting Latin next year (it is a requirement for the program) or looking to brush up on your long neglected skills, this will be a great chance for you.

We will meet once a week on Tuesday Night between 7:00-9:30 in Clearihue B215. Our first meeting is on Tuesday, May 29th. This will be a brief meeting where we will discuss reading materials and the overall direction of the group. If you can't attend this meeting, feel free to drop in on future meetings.

If you'd like more information send us an email or leave a comment.

We hope to see you there!

Getting to Know the MSCU...

Getting to Know… Ryan

My name is Ryan and I’m the President of the Medieval Studies Course Union. This autumn will mark my fourth year at UVic.

I’m majoring in… well, that’s a little bit complicated. Right now I’m a double major in Medieval Studies and Greek and Roman Studies with a minor in History. Soon, though, I’ll be applying to the new Medieval Studies Honours Program as well.

As my somewhat muddled major shows, I have a hard time choosing between things. I love the classics, especially Roman literature and history, but I also find Medieval history fascinating. I find that there’s a complexity of thought in Medieval history which is often lacking from other areas of historical study. In many ways the Middle Ages are a ‘new’ field of study; there are so many facets of the time which haven’t been looked at in great detail. It’s the ability to break new ground, the pioneering spirit, which attracts me to Medieval history.

The depth of thought in Medieval literature is also captivates me. Philosophy and jurisprudence are to the two subjects I find the most interesting. The Middle Ages are such a unique period because there is such a wealth of thought. In terms of philosophy, there is more to study in the Middle Ages than in any other period in history. And it’s not just the quantity of thought, but the quality of thought which amazes me. Even without looking into the Islamic East the Middle Ages provide some of the most complex and interesting moral and legal philosophy to ever exist. This is why I speak so highly of the period. Whatever your interest is, you can find something captivating in the Medieval history: art, philosophy, literature, theology, mythology, it has something for everyone.

Now how did I become interested in the Middle Ages? Well, the answer is pretty simply: Dr Haskett. In my first year I knew that I was interested in history so I took as many different history classes as I could. My two favourite classes were Hist. 236 with Dr Haskett and GRS 100 with Dr Rowe. Because of these two men, I am where I am today, at least I have someone to blame for my future.
Well that’s a little bit about me.

Next week on Getting to Know the MSCU… Vice-President Madeleine

Thursday, May 24, 2007

Getting to know the MSCU...

Getting to Know the MSCU... will be a new regular feature on this blog. It will give the executive members of the course union a chance to speak about themselves, their interests and why they are part of UVic's Medieval Studies Program.

Soon we will even use this feature to spotlight different members of the group and their own particular fields of study. If you would like to submit to this feature please send us an email.

The first installment of Getting to Know the MSCU... will be posted shortly.

Experience the MSCU

Just to let everyone out there know, the Medieval Studies Course Union will be attending the annual "Experience UVic" Event. While the event is intended for new students, we encourage you to come and show your support. If you know any new students who will be attending this event, please tell them to drop on by and see what we're all about.

For more information about "Experience UVic," please visit:

Wednesday, May 23, 2007

Summer '07

There will be a general meeting for anyone interested in the Medieval Studies Course Union on Thursday, June 7th 2007. The meeting will be held in Clearihue B215 starting at 2:45. We encourage anyone interested in shaping the direction of the course union to come. We look forward to announcing our summer plans shortly.

Monday, May 7, 2007

Times have changed