Wednesday, January 04, 2006

"Smellin' of Troy" (plus... Denzel does Sinatra)

Subject: Cinema
I caught a few new-to-me movies on the ol' DVR, and caught up with a couple of them:

"Alexander" -- Oliver Stone's epic Bronze Age answer to the earlier Brad Pitt Bronze Age epic "Troy". Or maybe it was vice-versa; who knows? All I remember is that it makes a pretty weird season when two big-budget ancient-Greek-heros-stomping-around movies make it to theaters at the same time. And that somebody thought that was a good idea!

I can't seem to find when or if I actually blogged about watching "Troy"; I suppose I didn't have much to say about it. Decently photographed, neat details with the sets, props, and costumes, but overall a bit lacking in the scale and "largeness" you would expect from a so-called "epic". "Alexander", on the other hand, did pretty well in the "scale" department.

The first big battle in particular had scope and a great level of detail that I'm sure either thrilled or infuriated amateur strategists with it's sky-high panoramas of the tactics underway. The open spaces felt really wide open, the forbidding mountains seemed quite huge and unscalable, the palaces were large and lush. And then it was able to scale in the opposite direction where needed: the far-eastern kingdoms were smaller and more hardscrabble the further he got from Babylon. And the jungles of India were downright claustrophobic and menacing. All in all, great photography, historical detail, and a strong sense of place.

But it sure was a bit of a whiny, angsty bit of pompousness superimposed on top of it! Replete with ambiguous sexuality, mommy issues, daddy complexes, and a "boldly go where no man has gone before" 'tude, the narrative jumps around from flashback to flash-forward, and tends to tritely try and weave what's known of the history and legend of the people and the time, with a kind of pop-psychiatry explaination of the various motivations involved. Instead of giving the characters depth, it kind of made them seem like cardboard cutout cliches of what dramatic characters probably would be if Stone didn't waste all his time on crafting all the details and symbolism.

But then again, that's kind of how I remember Oliver Stone's films anyhow.

So it's really long, and a few spots feel a bit tedious, and the "yaoi" stuff really isn't particularly intrusive, so it's worth some time if only to put some great pictures in your head about the time and places this was set in.

"The Manchurian Candidate" -- the 2004 remake starring Denzel Washington tries to put a modern, corporate spin on Frank Sinatra's Cold War classic sleeper. (Ooh, "sleeper", I get it! Ha!) I've got the original on laserdisc, and it's a pretty reasonable break from his usual "Rat Pack" flicks. This remake tries to capture a lot of the plot points, as well as impose a few up-to-date rhetorical caricatures to supplant the older commie-hysteria ones.

It's okay, I guess. It feels kind of forced, overall. The premise doesn't seem to translate quite as well; while the paranoia is portrayed more accurately (if stereotypically), it doesn't capture the descent into that madness and the absurdity of it all as well as the original did. The performances were all-in-all reasonable, but nothing particularly leapt out at me.

All in all, if you've missed this version, don't go out of your way to see it. If you haven't seen the original, check it out first if you get a chance.

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