Film Review – Alexander, The Aviator, Team America: World Police

Contradictions

(Originally publishedin Inform Magazine, January 2005)

Sometimes, there is a joy in being British. For one thing, most Hollywood blockbusters are released to the US public first who, in a Simon Cowell stylee, separate the ‘truly abysmal’ from the ‘really awful’ so that Over Here we can neatly side-step the hype and the shit. Alexander is the latest film to face the panel.

Okay, the odds weren’t in its favour after the miserably bloated wretch that was Troy. It’s hard to fathom why filmmakers suddenly think that historical epics of this sort are now ripe for a revival, as they were never much good in the first place. Gladiator only succeeded because it concentrated on its main (fictional) character rather than the usual assortment of earnestly pontificating historical figures. And the story in Gladiator was a simple one: revenge. Why settle for just one easy emotion when you can spend three hours examining someone’s contradictions, which is the trend for most modern historical epics.

Alexander is precisely three hours examining someone’s contradictions. It’s something that director Oliver Stone tends to do (e.g. The Doors, or Nixon) although not always with great results. Alexander’s release in the States has been notable not just for the ‘mixed’ reviews, but for the fact that it barely got a word of mouth because people never went to see it in the first place. Clearly, a ‘good’ historical epic by Oliver Stone is just one contradiction too far for most people.

It’s a shame, as there are some good battle sequences in Alexander (for those who like that sort of thing),and Stone does make a decent stab at examining a man who doesn’t really bear too much relevance to people today. You would have thought that the usually heavily politicized Stone might have made the parallel of Westerners invading the Middle East for personal gain but sadly this prime opportunity for comment is ignored (the screenplay has been kicking around for years, apparently).

Also, Stone makes the mistake of hiring some of the worst actors around. Colin Farrell, in the title role, looks very uncomfortable in a blonde wig, and we are treated to the deadly parental combination of Val Kilmer and Angelina Jolie, sporting a terrible Vampira accent (“In my womb I carried my avenger!”). To be fair, there probably aren’t too many actors who could successfully deliver the lines they’re given here, but the other people at the audition must really have been shocking. If you’re going to spend more than the GDP of some third world countries on a film, you shouldn’t be so careless.

Another historical biopic to arrive across the water this month is Martin Scorsese’s portrait of Howard Hughes in The Aviator. Unlike Alexander, this is only two hours forty examining someone’s contradictions, but at least Hughes proves a subject more worthy of our attentions, nutter that he was. As the title suggests, there is a lot of emphasis on Hughes’ love of flying, but there’s also the welcome addition of the millionaire’s equal fascination with attractive young actresses, notably Katherine Hepburn as played by Cate Blanchett (brilliant), Ava Gardner as played by Kate Beckinsdale (okay) and Jean Harlow as played by none other than Gwen Stefani (J-Lo need not be worried). There’s a certain self-indulgent thrill to seeing today’s starlets essaying those of yesteryear, which somehow seems out of place in such an earnest study.

The Aviator is one of Scorsese’s better efforts, certainly much more enjoyable than the comically overblown Gangs of New York. The Aviator looks like it took a lot less effort than his previous film and feels all the better for it. In advancing age, old Marty seems to be settling down to providing high quality fluff (most of the meat in this film comes in the huge amount of opulently staged nightclub sequences) and wisely casting aside the visceral violence of his most notable films. In a year that has seen a dearth of good dramas, The Aviator may yet clean up at the Oscars.

One film that won’t be troubling the Academy is Team America: World Police, the latest twisted creation from Matt Stone and Trey Parker. As subtle as a Saturday night out in Concert Square, this uses the ‘supermarionation’ techniques of Gerry Anderson and comes up with a Thunderbirds team that addresses the world’s current problems. Whilst inspired in some ways – the Team’s attempts to rid the world of terrorism tend to do more damage than the terrorists themselves – the film is ultimately let down by its over the top, frat-boy humour. Like Jay and Silent Bob Strike Back, you kind of get overwhelmed by all those blow job jokes and sledgehammer digs at the film industry (here, Michael Moore is a suicide bomber) and just wish that it relied more on the inherent humour of the absurdly inspired concept. Perhaps there could be a film examining Stone and Parker’s contradiction of simultaneously making films whilst constantly and obsessively berating the film industry. Although don’t let Oliver Stone direct it.

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About klausjoynson
I'm a writer, editor, musician, DJ and cartoonist. Contact me at: klausjoynson(at)gmail.com or follow me on Twitter: @KlausJoynson

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