Friday, November 26, 2004

Angelina the Great

The delightful thing about a bad film is the reviews that it gets. Top-drawer movie critics are at their wittiest when slamming a film rather than praising it, so here are some excerpts from some excellent reviews of what, by all accounts, must be a truly bad film. Oh, what fun!

Anthony Lane begins his New Yorker review by writing, “For more than thirty years, the shy, self-effacing Oliver Stone has been nursing fantasies of a film about Alexander the Great, although what attracted him to such a megalomaniac I can’t begin to imagine. In the meantime, Stone has been forced to fill his days with sissy little chamber pieces such as ‘Natural Born Killers,’ ‘Born on the Fourth of July,’ and ‘Platoon.’” Lane sets it up for us:

Alexander, born in 356 B.C., was the son of King Philip II of Macedonia and Olympias, one of his many wives; or, to put the matter in its most startling form, Colin Farrell is the son of Val Kilmer and Angelina Jolie. Wow. Given parentage of that calibre, the boy was never going to be your basic, middle-income Macedonian. Either he was going to conquer nation-states all the way from Athens to India, engraving his name in history, or he was going to wind up running a club called Oedipussy on the wrong end of Mykonos.

Lane sneaks in a political comment with a sartorial touch: “It seems highly improbable that a film in which very close friends wage war in matching leather miniskirts will find favor in the White House screening room. On the other hand, what a war! Stone, who was in President Bush’s class at Yale, uses ‘Alexander’ to offer a strident argument in favor of unilateral aggression against foreign powers, on the ground that—guess what—it’s good for ’em.”

But a sec, isn’t Stone a fan of that feller, wassisname, that Castro dude? Stephen Hunter, in his Washington Post review, writes:

The movie lacks any convincing ideas about Alexander. Stone advances but one, the notion that Alexander was an early multiculturalist, who wanted to "unify" the globe. He seems not to recognize this as a standard agitprop of the totalitarian mind-set, always repulsive, but more so here in a movie that glosses over the boy-king's frequent massacres. Conquerors always want "unity," Stalin a unity of Russia without kulaks, Hitler a Europe without Jews, Mao a China without deviationists and wreckers. All of these boys loved to wax lyrical about unity while they were breaking human eggs in the millions, and so it was with Alexander, who wanted world unity without Persians, Egyptians, Sumerians, Turks and Indians.

David Edelstein, in his Slate review, segues from the politics to the craft. “Is it possible,” he writes, “that his [Stone’s] loathing for what he regards as doomed US imperialism in present-day Persia has muffled his reliably fascist storytelling instincts? He seems to have forgotten how to put an audience on the rack.”

Edelstein begins by summing up the film in the first para: “Stone, for the first time in his career, simply ran out of hot air.” He then tells us why he thinks Natural Born Killers is “the worst movie ever made … in its combination of aesthetic and moral ugliness”.

Edelstein hates the film, but he likes Angelina Jolie in it, about whom he says: “She could eat Colin Farrell for breakfast and pick her teeth with Jared Leto. Forget Alexander: The film is a pedestal to Angelina the great.”

Roger Ebert, in his Chicago Sun-Times review, shares those views, writing that “Angelina Jolie seems so young and sexy as Olympias, especially in scenes involving Alexander, that we wonder if she will start raiding cradles instead of tombs.” Ebert’s review is a tad more respectful, though. He informs us that “Stone is fascinated by two aspects of Alexander: his pan-nationalism and his pan-sexualism. He shows him trying to unite many peoples under one throne while remaining equally inclusive with his choices of lovers.”

Manohla Dargis, in the New York Times, has this to say:

This is the costliest, most logistically complex feature of the filmmaker's career, and it appears that the effort to wrangle so many beasts, from elephants to movie stars and money men, along with the headaches that come with sweeping period films, got the better of him. Certainly it's brought out the worst in terms of the puerile writing, confused plotting, shockingly off-note performances and storytelling that lacks either of the two necessary ingredients for films of this type, pop or gravitas.

Nice review, all, but jarred with me was that almost all of them features the same darned publicity still, of Farrell wearing a mournful look and some apron-like thingie on his torso, eyeing a rather tight trinket on Jolie’s arm. What’s that about?

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