Mini Reviews (February 2005)
Ong-Bak, The Green Butchers, Alexander the Great, Solitary Fracture
Ong-Bak (February 8/05)
Tony Jaa has been called the next Bruce Lee/Jackie Chan, and while it's hard to argue with that claim, it doesn't change the fact that Ong-Bak is a horribly amateurish little film. If not for Jaa's impressive acrobatics and undeniable martial arts ability, it hardly seems likely that the film would be receiving this sort of wide release. Jaa plays Ting, a good-natured villager who is forced to venture into the big city after his community's sacred Ong-Bak statue is stolen. Upon arriving, he hooks up with a distant cousin and the two begin their pursuit of the pilfered piece. Ong-Bak has been directed by Prachya Pinkaew, a first-time filmmaker who is completely oblivious to fairly important things like pacing, character development, and lighting (the majority of film is bathed in indecipherable darkness that's certainly not the cool, Fincher-esque kind). As a result, Ong-Bak is generally an interminable experience - that is, until Jaa finally gets the opportunity to fight. But even on that front the film fails, as virtually all the fight sequences occur in a dank, nauseatingly unpleasant boxing arena. It's not until the last 20-minutes that Ong-Bak finally comes alive, with Ting taking on a variety of gang members in a manner that's expectedly brutal (it's also the reason the film is receiving one star instead of no stars). It's clear that Tony Jaa has the potential to become the next big action hero, but it's going to take a vehicle that's a lot more competently made than this to do it.
The Green Butchers (February 9/05)
Though it features two men who eventually turn to cannibalism to sustain their business, The Green Butchers somehow manages to convince the viewer to root for these guys (no small feat, given the number of folks they turn into "chicky-wickies"). The film's been written and directed by Anders Thomas Jensen, who does a nice job of imbuing the story with captivating moments of style and genuinely humorous instances of black comedy (this is essentially the movie Parents tried fruitlessly to be). Starring Mads Mikkelsen and Nikolaj Lie Kaas as Svend and Bjarne, The Green Butchers follows the mismatched pair as they open their own butcher shop to little success - until they begin eschewing chicken and beef in favor of a decidedly more risque form of meat (ie people). Running a brisk 95 minutes, the film is never dominated by its off-kilter subject matter; rather, Jensen places the emphasis on the characters, going so far as to include a romantic subplot (which is, surprisingly enough, fairly touching). The Green Butchers probably isn't for everyone, but considering the premise, this is a remarkably accessible little film.
Alexander the Great (February 11/05)
It hardly seems possible, but this 1956 account of Alexander the Great's life is even more ineffectual and dull than Oliver Stone's recent attempt. Starring Richard Burton as Alexander, the film follows the famed conqueror as he dominates the majority of the known world - all before turning 30. Writer/director Robert Rossen imbues Alexander the Great with a stagy, theatrical vibe, complete with dialogue that sounds ridiculously over-rehearsed (ie nobody has ever or will ever talk this way). This is exacerbated by Rossen's bland, uninspired directorial style, with the majority of the movie filmed on sets that look like sets. Burton delivers a mannered performance that's almost ridiculously melodramatic; there's absolutely nothing authentic or gritty about this Alexander, and it's virtually impossible to believe that this wimpy mollycoddle was able to conquer so many cultures (Stone's version, at least, presented the man as a thug and all-around tough guy).
Solitary Fracture (February 18/05)
Written, directed, scored, and edited by Deniz Michael, Solitary Fracture is one of the most impressive debut features to come along in quite some time. Michael plays Mike Peters, an ordinary guy with a boring job and non-existent social life. After being fired for tardiness, Mike begins a slow descent into madness - though it's fairly clear at the film's outset that he's barely holding it together anyway (he falls asleep to white noise on his small television). Comparisons to Lodge Kerrigan's Clean, Shaven (which also dealt with a mentally disturbed central figure) are inevitable, though the two films are miles apart in terms of their presentation. Michael eschews Kerrigan's fly-on-the-wall approach in favor of a more stylized feel; it doesn't come as much of a surprise to learn that the filmmaker has been heavily influenced by Stanley Kubrick, as Solitary Fracture contains the same sort of austerity and stark compositional qualities that defined Kubrick's work. And while the movie isn't quite as consistent as one might like - the story begins to fizzle out towards the inevitable conclusion, and the final images are somewhat baffling - there's no denying that this is a strong, visceral piece of filmmaking.