June 20, 2008, - 3:41 pm
Weekend Box Office: Several Good Flicks – “Get Smart,” “Mongol,” Secret Agent “OSS 117,” Steroid Docu
By Debbie Schlussel
For a change, there are several good new movies at the box office, this weekend. I did not review “The Love Guru” because it was a choice of screening that or “Get Smart.” Based on what I’ve read thus far, I made the right decision in spades. As for the rest:
* “Get Smart“: Read my complete review here. It looks like I’m one of the few critics who liked this movie. But take my advice. It’s funny, light, entertaining, and even amusing. These same critics liked the raunchy, unfunny “Knocked Up,” but don’t like this hilarious tribute to the ’60s television series about a secret agent who is a parody of James Bond? I don’t get it. But I recommend this movie, except for young kids. Nice escapist stuff, which does Don Adams and Barbara Feldon proud. Again, read my complete review.
* “Mongol“: A must-see, whether or not you are a history buff. This is like the Asian version of “Braveheart” or “300.” Fun to watch, if a little bloody. And it’s probably the best movie I’ve seen so far this year.
Will the real Genghis Khan please stand up? This masterpiece of a movie is the first of what’s meant to be a trilogy about the life of Mongolian warrior king Genghis Khan. We see Khan as a little boy, named “Temudjin,” who picks his wife and loses his father to poisoned milk. We see him become a rising warrior and then a prisoner, until he is finally free and regains and increases his stature. The movie follows Khan until he becomes Khan in his 30s.
It’s also unique in that it’s one of the first to show Khan in a good light and as a kind man who–while a ruthless killer and conqueror–also had principles and a sense of decency, honor, and nobility. And that’s why a number of commentators who’ve seen it disagree on whether or not this is an accurate depiction of the early life of this Khan (king).
The debate really centers on whose history you believe–the history of Khan as written by the conquered, the Arab Muslims and others who hated him because they lost to him; or the history of Khan as written by his own Mongols, of which there is precious far less written history and opinion. This is a first in that it is based on Khan’s history as written by the Mongols.
At two hours, the movie is a little slow and seemed somewhat long. But I loved it all the same. Beautifully shot, great warrior scenes, and an interesting take on world history. If you love a great warrior film, this is for you. It’s an adventure. You can generally find this film in arthouse theaters.
One drawback: the foreign language film is entirely subtitled, and the subtitles move fast. You have to do some work and work fast.
Here’s my favorite “Mongol” poster (“Mongol” in Hebrew):
* “OSS 117: Cairo, Nest of Spies“: If you like the old “Get Smart,” from TV in the ’60s, or even just James Bond, you’ll love this French comedy/parody of Bond set in Egypt in 1955. A bumbling French secret agent, OSS 117, comes to Cairo to determine what happened to a missing French agent posing as a chicken and poultry wholesaler.
Funny, with cool ’50s attire and decor (and for the guys, beautiful women whom OSS beds a la Bond), I enjoyed this movie a lot. Best part: When agent OSS 117 is woken up early in the morning by the Islamic call to prayer. First, he shouts something to the effect of, “Shut the F–k Up!” Then, he runs out of his hotel and beats up the man doing the call to prayer. He also repeatedly makes fun of Egypt, Muslims, and Arabs–and accurately calls their society backwards–which surprised me, since there are so many Muslims involved in the production of this film and it’s made in France.
In French with subtitles, and they move quickly, so if you don’t speak French, you must work fast.
Hilarious, cool, old-style comedy. The movie is generally running in arthouse theaters.
“Bigger, Stronger, Faster“: When I first saw this movie about steroids, I missed the beginning, and I thought, “What a great documentary!–This is how it’s done. Far better than Michael Moore.” And it’s very good, but after seeing the beginning–and the end–it took what is in the middle down a notch.
This documentary about some Americans’ use of steroids and whether or not they are harmful takes the position that steroids aren’t so bad, and that there is a mass hysteria and wave of witch hunts against them that aren’t deserved. And filmmaker Chris Bell–who once used steroids and whose two brothers still do–was once a writer for WWE. His brother is a has-been, one-time “scout team” wrestler for WWE. Although Bell says he’s against steroids and paints his brothers as deceivers and losers for using, his film is mostly a pro-legalization of steroids flick. And the interviews and probing he does is thorough and thought-provoking, while also being very entertaining.
The interview Bell does with Congressman Henry Waxman a/k/a “Nostrilman” is priceless. After showing clips of Waxman “getting tough” in committee hearings against steroid-using pro athletes and those alleged to have used them, Bell asks Waxman a few basic questions that show how clueless this liberal Congressman is. You and I know more than this guy about steroids. Ditto for cigarettes. Waxman is unaware of the legal age to purchase them. Like I said, priceless.
The long-rumored story about Olympic Gold Medalist Carl Lewis using steroids and getting a pass is confirmed. It makes you feel bad for Ben Johnson, whose Olympic medals Lewis got after Johnson was disqualified and banned for using steroids. There’s a lot of interesting stuff here and throughout this entertaining movie.
Still, Bell lost me on a couple of things. He starts out his movie implying that it’s the fault of someone that he and other Americans use steroids–the fault of . . . Ronald Reagan?! Yes, somehow, by freeing the hostages from Iran and telling the world America is against Khomeini, Reagan caused the outbreak of steroid use. Yup, it’s preposterous. But, as he explains it, Chris Bell wanted to be patriotically hulky like Hulk Hogan and Sylvester Stallone’s “Rocky” and Arnold Schwarzenegger–a frequent target of the movie–so that he could fight that other Muslim, wrestling’s “The Iron Sheik.”
Then, there’s the ending–and the subtitle of the movie: “The Side Effect of Being American.” Bell says that we Americans want to do everything stronger and bigger–but easier–than everyone else. But Schwarzenegger, one of the biggest steroid users targeted in the film grew up not in California, but in Austria. This ain’t an American phenomenon. And very few Americans as a percentage actually use illegal steroids. It’s simply not honest to call this “an American Side Effect.” And we don’t appreciate the America-bashing, not necessary to make his points. And a turn-off from the movie.
And there are some “points” that aren’t strong and could have been left out, like Bell’s use of multiple news clips where commentators use the phrase “On Steroids”–ie., “America’s Policy in Kosovo is America’s Bosnia Policy On Steroids.” The use of that phrase doesn’t mean anything. In the ’80s, lots of commentators used the question, “Where’s the Beef?” made popular in Wendy’s ads. Does this mean beef is a “bad side effect” of being American? Probably not, unless you’re asking PETA activists.
Other than that, this is one of the best documentaries I’ve ever seen. It’s so entertaining, you don’t even feel like you’re watching a documentary. It’s very funny and very relevant and current.