Sergei Bodrov's "Mongol" created Internet hype late last year when fan boys at Aint It Cool News were privileged a showing at their annual Butt-Numb-A-Thon. The film went onto garner a Foreign Film Academy award nomination and generously released here in the summer for Hollywood action spectacle counter-programming. It's a smart move, coupled with the fact that Bodrov's first film in an expected series about Ghengis Khan is pretty damn good in all the right ways. Following the rise of Khan (Tadanobu Asano) from childhood to mongol warrior (with slave and prisoner roles in between) and ending with the promise of large-scale battles in the next episode as Khan rises to great leader, "Mongol" is sharply directed. While there's no really huge set piece, the battles are filmed in logical, easy interpretive methods with the right amount of blood letting. Filmed on remote locations in China and Kazakhstan, the vistas and snow capped mountains compliment the fundamental scope of the film. But the real surprise is that emotions are just as visceral as the action. A good majority of "Mongol" traces Khan's initial relationships in life with his chosen bride Borte (Khulan Chuluun) and blood brother Jamukha (Honglei Sun), which makes his later escapades all the more meaningful. The fan boys were right. "Mongol" is exceptional storytelling and I look forward to the continuation of Bodrov's vision.
The Incredible Hulk
I think I'm one of the few who really liked Ang Lee's "less-is-more" rendering of "Hulk" a few years back. While there are some similar contemplative moments within Louis Letterier's fast and furious sequel- or spin off or re-visualisation... whatever this new film claims to be- Hulk smashes and he smashes some more. It should please as a summer blockbuster. Until the ending, which devolves into a giant CGI cartoon where Edward Norton's Hulk battles Tim Roth's mutated self, "The Incredible Hulk" sustains a highly entertaining pace. Letterier is adept at staging some nice action set pieces (especially the chase through a Brazilian slum early in the film) but it's the final battle, drawn out with weightless looking special effects against a cartoon backdrop of New York city, that seems to jump the shark. I understand the need for big, climactic finales in my summer blockbusters, but this one feels excessively fake and meaningless. That being said, everything till that point in the movie (including Norton's performance and his palpable connection with Liv Tyler) are crisp and enjoyable.
Another comic book adaptation- but this time with much fewer legions of fans than Hulk I'm guessing- Timur Bekmambetov's "Wanted" is a high-adrenaline shoot em up that failed to move me on any level. From the smug, detestable voice over (at which one point lead character James McAvoy says something like "I used to be a nobody.... like you"- well well how's that for friendly audience interaction from a screenwriter who apparently feels so much better than the rest of the world?) to the over-the-top action set pieces, "Wanted" is a loud, abrasive experience. Lost amid video game aesthetics and music-video montages of bullets flying and bodies flailing, "Wanted" never really connects with anything except the desire to "wow". That wouldn't be all bad if its attempts at humor and character development were more than bottom feeder theatrics. Amazingly, this film even makes Angelina Jolie look boring.
Grant Gee's "Joy Division" is a more commercial documentary approach towards a trend-setting, cultish rock band than his early 90's peek-on-tour with Radiohead called "Meeting People Is Easy", but the results are just as appealing. Gee obviously has a sharp eye for melding image and music as both films represent the bands as the masters of their era, yet "Joy Division", obviously, reflects a sharper reverential attitude since lead singer Ian Curtis' young farewell has been duly noted. Full of talking head interviews with the usual crowds (band mates, ex-girlfriend, Tony Wilson, album producers), Gee also occasionally breaks out of the mold with some startling inter textual asides- such as when he flashes a black and white photo image of a 70's club or loft, then cuts to a modern 35MM view of the same space with the playful footnote "things that are no longer there", complete with footnote number and all. In other (almost subliminal) moments, Gee flashes a word on the screen as someone off-screen speaks this word... and it's just these ultra-modern moments that make "Joy Division" feel like a prescient subject even though that subject mostly mattered 20 years ago. It doesn't matter whether one sees this documentary before Anton Corjbin's fictional telling of the band in "Control". Both efforts are blessed with having the special intellect and fragile personality of Ian Curtis and a band whose music are forceful enough to carry either film on their own.