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Review: Kingdom of Heaven


Inveterate goof-spotters will want to keep their eyes peeled for a real howler in Kingdom of Heaven, Ridley Scott’s new historical epic. Set in the late twelfth century, during the brief, uneasy truce among Christians, Jews and Muslims that flourished between the Second and Third Crusades, the film climaxes with a scrupulous and thrilling recreation of the siege of Jerusalem. The scene is replete with every art of war imaginable — from close-quarters skirmishes involving battleaxes to giant catapults winging fiery death from half a mile away. It’s a virtuoso sequence, fierce, frenetic and utterly convincing . . . until, that is, you notice that each and every warrior has a brand-new 60GB iPod Photo clipped to his chain-mail tunic.
    Okay, not really. I made that up. But as ludicrous as the above sounds, a quick glimpse of modern technology would arguably be less damaging than the flagrant sociopolitical anachronisms in which Kingdom of Heaven actually indulges. Unapologetically conceived as a pointed analogue to recent events in the Middle East — the closing-credits disclaimer even sarcastically singles out “persons now living” in lieu of the standard “living or dead” boilerplate — the film espouses ideals of religious tolerance and personal autonomy that are decidely post-Enlightenment. Indeed, if even one-tenth of the liberal skepticism on display here were accurate, there would have been no Crusades in the first place.
    Still, few people seek out Hollywood blockbusters for lessons in medieval history. As a rousing action movie, Kingdom occasionally delivers, though it’s hampered by one of the most tediously noble protagonists in recent memory (Orlando Bloom’s flaccid performance could conceivably win Russell Crowe a second, retroactive Oscar for Gladiator) and bears the scars of its studio-mandated trims (Scott’s preferred cut, to be released on DVD a few months hence, is roughly an hour longer). Enjoy the film for its potent imagery, its vivid gallery of supporting characters (including an uncredited Edward Norton, doing his very best Brando, as the masked Leper King), and its undeniably good intentions. Just bear in mind that any resemblance to actual history is purely coincidental. — Mike D’Angelo

Review: Writer of O
The titillating docudrama begins with the filmmaker, Pola Rappaport, recounting her first run-in as an adolescent with Pauline Réage’s erotic — some would say revolutionary — French novel The Story of O. Revisiting the book years later, Rappaport asks “what sort of person would write this story?”
    The literal answer is Dominique Aury, who took on the penname Pauline Réage. Rife with satin sheets and restraints, The Story of O sparked controversy at a time when widespread censorship of sexual content was standard. In Réage’s liberal homeland, many suspected that only a man could have written the book. In fact, Aury wrote The Story of O as a love letter to Jean Paulhan, an intellectual giant in the Academie Française who wrote the preface “Happiness in Slavery.”
    The film is a strange mélange of cinema verité and obvious fiction — half interviews in French and English about the political and social scandals the book’s publication caused, half re-enactments of sex and bondage scenes from the book. Every instance of O’s submission to the men in the story was a stand-in for Aury’s longing for her disinterested married colleague, making the story of the writer of O a lust story within a love story within a documentary, and worth seeing for anyone who’s gone a little crazy trying to please their beloved. — Andy Duncan
Date DVD #31: The Great Rock ‘n Roll Swindle
To seduce that punk rock girl or boy, find a large bottle of booze and this crass, crazy 1980 mockumentary about the Sex Pistols. Christopher Guest has nothing on this.
    Julien Temple’s messy “film that incriminates its audience,” as the tagline says, is an overblown, ridiculous overdose of music-biz madness. Malcolm McLaren, the band’s insane manager, promoter and bastard, dominates the film, just as he would have you believe he dominated his bands. A legendarily grating and obnoxious self-aggrandizer, he attempts to prove that the band was nothing more than a scam he cooked up to get rich. Of course, all his absurd rantings never quite break beyond the axiom, “If a liar tells you he’s lying, should you believe him?” — and that’s fine by me. This film doesn’t so much capture What The Sex Pistols Meant, as what they — and McClaren — felt: greedy.
   The gutsy concert footage — from “Anarchy in the UK” to Sid Vicious’s absurd sell-out cover of “My Way” — is raucous as ever, even when they’re trying hardest not to please. (After all, punk rockers were the pioneers and pinnacle of “he’s just not that into you” — making nastiness a virtue.) Eventually, the whole hectic, asshole project just beats you into submission. Here’s hoping your date will too. — Logan Hill

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