Two and a half stars
This week: a look at two films about sullen individuals who spent key years of their time on Earth living through war and ended up settling in countries far from home. The central figure in Persepolis is Marjane (voiced by Chiara Mastroianni) and her anger stems from being a naturally rebellious teen stuck in the middle of an especially repressive political regime. The central figure in Rambo is John (Sylvester Stallone) and his anger stems from extreme post-traumatic stress disorder and being screwed by the system, man!
Persepolis is animated, co-written and directed by Marjane Satrapi, based on her graphic novel. Rambo is live-action, except for the lead actor’s hard-putty face, written and directed by Sylvester Stallone, based on his 25-year-old action movie franchise.
The drawings in Persepolis are simple, crisp and clean. Satrapi was wise to tell her story in graphic novel form, as were the filmmakers for deciding to maintain the look. The particulars of life in Mullah-ridden Iran during the Islamic Revolution and the Iran-Iraq war might cause some viewers’ eyes to glaze over, but the uncluttered illustrations keep the proceedings accessible. Yes, the film deals with the politics of it all, but the story is primarily about a girl who just wants to grow up without being hassled by everyone. I was frustrated by the lack of expressiveness of the flatly drawn faces at first, but later realized that most teens, at least the cool ones, do their damnedest to not show any expression, though a smile may occasionally break through their facade.
A lot happens to Marjane. When the government cracks down on dissent, free expression in general and any trappings of Western culture in particular, Marjane’s parents send her from Tehran to Vienna so she might freely pursue her studies. She does, while smoking, drinking and having sex like many of her peers in the Austrian academic scene. After experiencing some of the bumps and bruises of young love, she returns home to the folks, only to encounter even more repression than when she left. Persepolis effectively tells a difficult story by remaining focused on a young woman to whom it is easy to relate.
Rambo picks up 20 years after the last film in the series, with the 61-year-old ex-Green Beret making a living in Thailand by capturing poisonous snakes for a local entertainment venue (Snakes-A-Poppin’, I believe). A group of Western missionaries arrives and asks him to lead a rescue mission to Burma, where some of their colleagues have been caught up in the world’s longest-running civil war. “Fuck the world,” John tells the head missionary (Paul Schulze), which certainly sets a tone for the movie. Ah, but one of the missionaries is a beautiful blond woman (Julie Benz), so Rambo changes his mind, toting them into forbidden territory and killing some pirates along the way, which really shakes up the do-gooders.
Long story short: The missionaries get caught, mercenaries are hired, Rambo reluctantly gets involved again and a tremendous number of people are killed in graphic CGI detail. Sylvester Stallone spends the movie either glowering or shouting and there are lots of nonsensical action scenes with violence galore. Rambo is ugly, stupid and fairly entertaining. Anyone surprised?