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 Oh Alexander, your roots are showing - Bahman Gobadi

 Source : The Observer - Guardian
  Kurd Net is NOT responsible of the content of the article

 


Oh Alexander, your roots are showing - Bahman Gobadi 9.1.2005
By Philip French, The Observer

 




Despite a couple of good battles, Oliver Stone's hero is more blond than brutal, his character more epicene than epic

Alexander

(173 mins, 15)
Directed by Oliver Stone; starring Colin Farrell, Anthony Hopkins, Angelina Jolie, Christopher Plummer

Turtles Can Fly
(95 mins, 15)
Directed by Bahman Ghobadi; starring Soran Ebrahim, Hirsh Feyssal

Undead
(104 mins 15)
Directed by Michael and Peter Spierig; starring Felicity Mason, Mungo McKay, Rob Jenkins

White Noise
(97 mins, 15)
Directed by Geoffrey Sax; starring Michael Keaton, Deborah Kara Unger, Ian McNeice

End of the Century: The Story of The Ramones
(112 mins, PG)
Directed by Jim Fields and Michael Gramaglia; starring the Ramones

'Some talk of Alexander and some of Hercules,' as the old song goes, but not in the cinema. There are a dozen movies about the mythical Hercules (whom Alexander revered as Herakles) for every one about the historical Alexander. These are a mere two - Robert Rossen's 1956 epic starring Richard Burton in a fetching mini-skirt and a marcel-waved blond coiffure which makes him look infinitely more camp than the gay barber he played in Staircase, and Colin Farrell as the megalomaniac Macedonian in Oliver Stone's Alexander.

You could throw in Terence Rattigan's 1949 play, Adventure Story, which starred a young Paul Scofield as Alexander. It was taken to task by Rattigan's admirer, TC Worsley, for being too cinematic ('We have often been given the film of a play before now, but this must be the first occasion when we have been given the play of a film, even before the film was made') and dismissed by his detractor Kenneth Tynan for being too British ('His pagan legionnaires move like gods and talk like prefects').

Rattigan tells the story in flashback from Alexander's deathbed; Rossen takes it chronologically from Alexander's birth to his death; Stone has the story narrated long after the events by Alexander's lieutenant, Ptolemy (Anthony Hopkins), to a clerk in the Alexandria library.

All three employ the device of using ancient maps to trace the general progress from Macedonia to the end of the known world. Of these versions, Stone's Alexander is the best in almost every way. That is not to make any great claims for it, though it does suggest that the American critics, who've greeted the picture with relentless sneers, are unacquainted with the competition.

The film deals quite well with the notion of a young man developing world-conquering dreams as he grows up in the shadow of an overbearing warrior-father (Val Kilmer as a drunken, one-eyed Philip) and an insanely ambitious mother, Olympias (Angelina Jolie), who is constantly seen wrapped in phallic snakes, which she uses as symbols of ever-present treachery.

Under the tutelage of Aristotle (played by Christopher Plummer as a jovially suspect public-school master), Alexander turns out to be a bright lad, drawn to homosexuality. He thus belongs to, or perhaps created in the 4th century BC, that tradition of bisexual military leaders that stretches from Julius Caesar to Lord Kitchener and TE Lawrence. Stone treats with sensitivity his relationship with the apparent love of his life, Hephaistion (Jared Leto) but does go slightly overboard when Alexander is driven crazy by some homoerotic dancers in India.

Unlike most big-scale historical movies, Alexander is never truly risible. Colin Farrell's tousled blond locks, for instance, are no odder than Brad Pitt's in Troy, and his Irish accent is unextraordinary and supposedly intended to suggest a people regarded by Greeks as their inferiors.

It is well designed, plausible and has two superbly staged battle sequences - the first an agoraphobic encounter in the desert at Gaugamela, which precedes the fall of Persia, the second a claustrophobic fight in an Indian jungle where the Greeks find themselves confronted by a squadron of elephants, which anticipates the terror of the first tank battles of the First World War. The real problem is that the picture is plodding, unvaried in its pace and repetitive.

There are too few great moments that lift the picture into epic status, the sort of things that make El Cid, The Fall of the Roman Empire, Spartacus and, more recently, Gladiator, so memorable. And at the end we feel, as with The Aviator, that the director has become obsessed with a monstrous figure and has played down a good deal of his brutality and iniquity. Of the most famous incidents in Alexander's legend, Stone handles rather well the young prince's taming of the wild black stallion, Bucephalus. But he has dropped the cutting of the Gordian knot, a numinous event that went for virtually nothing in Richard Burton's hands. At the end, a major question remains unanswered: is the film criticising or endorsing American imperialism?

Turtles Can Fly, the first film to be made in Iraq after the fall of Saddam, is written and directed by Iranian film-maker Bahman Ghobadi. It further explores the problems of tough children attempting to survive in an adult world that he dealt with in his masterly A Time for Drunken Horses.

The earlier film concerned Kurdish children engaged in the dangerous work of smuggling goods back and forth over the heavily mined Iran-Iraq border. Here, they're living in a wretched Kurdish refugee camp near the border between Iraq and Turkey on the eve of the American invasion of 2003, and the movie is ominously framed by the suicide of a female teenage orphan.

The children survive by collecting landmines and most of them are mutilated. Their leader, nicknamed Satellite for his ability to install dishes that enable the community to keep in touch with the news, is a go-getter who keeps the group together through a combination of kindness and brutal authority. He's looking forward to the arrival of the Americans and a new way of life. You don't need to have seen A Time for Drunken Horses to know that Satellite's hopes are going to be dashed - you just need to watch the news. This is a bold, impressive film that deserves a wider audience than it's likely to get.

From Australia and North America come two third-rate horror movies. The low-budget Undead is another of these derivative spoofs in which mayhem is played for laughs. George Romero's zombie pictures are its main source, as are the early New Zealand gore fests of Peter Jackson, but it's much inferior to the recent British picture Shaun of the Dead, which dipped into the same wells.

A storm of alien meteorites descends on the outback and leads to the zombification of most of the glum citizens of small fishing community. A couple of cops, a crazy survivalist and a girl who's been voted 'Miss Catch of the Day' fight them off with much decapitation, lopping of limbs and exploding bodies. It's a crude movie, the special effects self-consciously charming in their naivety and a poor example of its kind.

Unlike Undead, White Noise (which I had hoped was going to be a film version of the Don DeLillo novel of the same title) has certain pretensions. This Anglo-Canadian production, directed by British TV filmmaker Geoffrey Sax, was made in Vancouver but is clearly set in the States. Following on a stream of pictures about grieving people getting in touch with dead relatives (and vice versa), it stars a lugubrious Michael Keaton as a widower whose novelist wife has died in mysterious circumstances.

A stranger (Ian McNeice) arrives to tell Keaton that she's contacted him from 'the other side' and introduces him to EVP - electronic voice phenomenon - a way of contacting or being contacted by the dead through television and radio signals. The filmmakers assure us that EVP is catching on and has produced successful results.

The one thing that makes this convincing is that the recently deceased would be too smart to entrust their communications to the Post Office.

End of the Century: The Ramones is an interesting documentary about the innovative New York punk group who all changed their names to Ramone (including three successive drummers), stayed together for a quarter of a century while hating each other, and became feted without achieving great financial success. Like most rockumentaries, it ends up bobbing in the wake of This Is Spinal Tap.

http://observer.guardian.co.uk 

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