Young Genghis Khan, Steroids, And A Cagey New DVD Release
July 2, 2008 Leave a comment
MONGOL (Dir. Sergei Bodrov, 2007)
We first meet Khan, born as Temudgin, as a young boy played by Odnyam Odsuren. When his father is murdered he becomes hunted because he may grow up to avenge the deathGODFATHER: PART II-style. He survives capture and torture and skirts across the endless mountain terrain inspired by thoughts of his young bride Börte (Bayertsetseg Erdenebat). The pace picks up a bit when he emerges as an adult in the form of Tadanobu Asano whose grace and stern focus provide the film with much needed power. He returns to the arms of Börte now portrayed by Khulan Chuluun but their reunion is short-lived as she is kidnapped by a rival clan and Temudgin goes against the advice of his best friend Jamukha (Honglei Sun) who stresses “What Mongol ever went to war for a woman?”
Several battle scenes full of slow motion slicing and the before mentioned digital blood are the most entertaining parts of MONGOL but they do not save the movie from the long uninvolving stretches that toyed with my patience. The photography of the infinite landscapes of Inner Mongolia and Kazakhstan is breath-taking much of the time but the lack of narrative drive and the detached handling of the myths of these historical figures as well as the lackluster love story left me cold. At just a little over 2 hours (but feels much longer) MONGOL moves like a bloated beast trying to find a place to sleep but still lashing half heartedly out at swirling flies. The word is that this is the first part of a trilogy – a Mongolian LORD OF THE RINGS if you will, with director Bodrov promising the rest of the tale of the legendary conquerer for your Oscar consideration (MONGOL was nominated for a Best Foreign Language Film Academy Award). Well if the future installments lumber like this one in such uninspired stupor over the tortuous and tedious terrain, count me out.
Fancy this – a documentary about an obvious hot-button topic i.e. anabolic steroids and their impact on our national society which contains actual insights personal, political, and pop culture-wise. Take that, SUPER SIZE ME! Director Bell and his 2 body building brothers (Mike “Mad Dog” and Mark “Smelly”) have all used steroids and relate tales of near stardom in the shadows of their heroes – Arnold Swartzeneger, Sylvester Stallone, Hulk Hogan et al. Taking its name from an oft repeated line from The Six Million Dollar Man, BIGGER, STRONGER, FASTER is chock full of clips of their role models in their pumped up prime – RAMBO, ROCKY, THE TERMINATOR, as well as satirical swipes at the world of performance enhancing drugs from the likes of The Simpsons and SNL. Filling out the solidly structured footage is interviews with experts pro and con on the steroid issue but the real crux is the Bell brothers’ back stories. Chris Bell cops to doing steroids (in an especially emotional dinner table scene with his parents) when he was younger and stopping because of feelings of guilt but his brothers are still users. Their confessions under the scrutiny of their brother once one of them but now a questioning documentarian are compelling and surprisingly sincere sounding: “I love steroids and will probably be on and off them forever” Mark admits matter of factly.
NATIONAL TREASURE 2: BOOK OF SECRETS (Dir. Jon Turteltaub, 2007)
The first NATIONAL TREASURE was a direct lift of “The Da Vinci Code” (the book mind you – it beat the film adaptation by 9 months) imposing an American action formula on the bestsellers puzzles and distortion of history. It was as stupid as it sounds with Nicholas Cage’s wise-cracking protagonist leading his small crew (including the supposed to be funny but isn’t Justin Bartha as his partner and Diane Kruger as the love interest) through contrived unexciting movie mechanisms but it made a ginormous amount of money; enough money to warrant a sequel apparently so here we are again with more of the lame same. I was planning on skipping this until I saw a trailer that promised the premise of a book known only to the President of The United States that contains the secrets to the nation’s greatest mysteries – the J.F.K. assassination, Area 51, and the alleged faking of the Apollo Moon landing. I’m a lover of conspiracy theory cinema and am writing a book on the subject so I felt obligated. I still shouldn’t have bothered – these famous theories or urban legends, as some would call them, are just mentioned and never used in any interesting or even amusing way. As I should’ve known the book of secrets is just a McGuffin * in another round of running from one wickedly easy to open crypt to another cipher or another implausibly placed code.
Anyone who doubts the quality of the latest INDIANA JONES movie should see NATIONAL TREASURE 2 because its lack of genuine wit and graceless tone makes that ole Spielberg/Lucas/Ford re-union special look like TREASURE OF THE SIERRE MADRE! The addition of Helen Mirren as Cage’s mother and Voight’s bickering ex-wife brings nothing new to this lame wannabe franchise though it is kind of cool to see her in plain duds with scraggly hair and no grand make-up for once. Then again with Mirren and other such solid respected actors as Harvey Keitel (reprising his role from the first NT as a sympathetic cop in pursuit) and Ed Harris (as the villain – uh, I guess) running around it feels like this overly slick enterprise exists to glorify cinematic slumming it.