March 9, 2007, - 1:08 pm
By Debbie Schlussel
This weekend, the much-hyped “300″ comes to theaters. But a much better movie–the story of Indian immigrants coming to and assimilating into America–also makes it’s box office debut. Both are entertaining, though:
* “The Namesake“: This is a very charming story of Bengali Indians who come to America and make their life here. At a running time of 2 hours, perhaps it could have been a tad shorter. But it spans over 30 years (and two generations), and the time goes by fast as you follow a kindly Indian scientist and academic, Ashok Ganguli, his arranged marriage to the beautiful Ashima. We see how she gets used to American life–cold weather, washing machines, and food.
We then follow the life of their son Gogol (the talented Kal Penn of “Harold and Kumar Go to White Castle” and “24″), a fully American kid who has completely assimilated into American culture, forsaking his Indian culture and traditions and dating a White American woman. He comes to appreciate his Indian roots only later in life upon the occurrence of a traumatic experience.
It’s a lot more interesting than my summary. This beautiful movie takes us from India to America and back, several times. I learned a lot about Indian culture from this film. But you need not be of Bengali or Indian heritage to appreciate it. This is the story of immigrants of every ethnic group which comes to America (except Muslims (mostly Arabs), who’ve chosen not to assimilate and to become separatists in our nation, demanding that we assimilate to them and their mores).
Entertaining, interesting, and enlightening. All of the acting in this is excellent. If you are Indian, you will enjoy it. But if you are not, you will enjoy it and learn something, too.
* “300“: This is a man’s movie. It has epic battle scenes and lots of graphic violence.
It’s supposed to be about the Battle of Thermopylae between 300 Greek Spartans and thousands of Persian King Xerxes’ men. It starts out well and good with Spartan King Leonidas’ message about fighting for liberty to the end and never becoming a slave, no matter what. The training of the Spartans from boyhood on and the engagement in battle are portrayed vividly . . . sometimes too much so, with the extreme blood and gore.
But, since it’s based on a long comic book (those go by the pretentious name “graphic novel”), it’s highly-stylized cinema for the masses, rather than real history accurately portrayed. There’s nothing wrong with that, except that this movie hasn’t really decided what it wants to be.
The actors, the lines, the story, the characters are all very serious and dire. But, then, there is a transvestite Xerxes–very silly, given the real thing was anything but that, and it belittles the real-life battle. And there are the bizarre creatures–an ogre who looks human but has arms of lobster claws, naked women amputees in a harem, and other grotesque figures that do nothing but take away from the movie and were gratuitously added as a point of interest to the video-gamer slacker dummies for whom this dumbed-down movie was really produced.
You won’t learn much history or real details from this movie about the fight to the finish for liberty fought by Spartan King Leonidas and his 300 Spartan soldiers. The scene of a deformed hunchback ogre creature betraying Sparta for one of the topless concubines in Xerxes’ harem bears no resemblance to reality. But it adds a cheap, bizarre porn chic for the dumbed-down male late teen lumpen movie-going-tariat to which the movie panders.
And that’s sad because the battle scenes are great. They are bloody and violent. It’s hard to keep track of the beheadings, impalings, and other sickening effects of war.
The tagline of this movie, “Prepare for Glory,” should have been, “Prepare for Gory.” Not sure so much graphic gore was necessary, but in a battle of the Spartans, I guess it’s accurate. As for the explicit sex scenes between Leonidas and his wife and the concubine scenes, not sure they added anything to the movie. More like, took away from it. Ditto for all the naked men’s rear-views. There’s so much of that, it’s as if some of this movie was made to appeal to a gathering backstage at an Elton John concert.
I liked the Spartan ethos, the commitment of Leonidas–stressed throughout–about fighting the enemy until death, even if you are vastly outnumbered. That’s the message we should take–but haven’t–in fighting the Islamic enemy. I liked the toughness of the men, the masculinity, the femininity of their wives, and the wives’–especially Spartan Queen Gorgo–to fighting to the death for freedom. Their fight is valiant and is portrayed as such in this film.
Whether the real Sparta was exactly a democracy or truly free is debatable. And readers have debated whether the Spartans were truly straight or had a strong homosexual dynamic and found it difficult to reproduce. But no-one can accuse this movie of having a lot in common with reality or true history.
Overall, very good, and entertaining. Could have done with less gore, and without the fictional monsters and deformed concubines inserted only for the amusement of the comic book class. Not for kids or even teens.
Tags: America, Ashok Ganguli, Debbie Schlussel, food, Gogol, Harold Go, India, Kal Penn, King, Kumar Go, Prepare for Glory, Prepare for Gory, scientist, The Namesake, White Castle