Monthly Archives: September 2007

THE KINGDOM

Peter Berg’s film exists in the real modern world of Arab-U.S. relations – one where car bombs go off on a daily (sometimes hourly) basis, gunfire regularly happens in front of family homes, and Americans and Muslims alike are killed violently when they least expect it. Although the film exists in this world, it is not a political statement, nor an emotional appeal on a human level (though those notes are sporadically struck). It basically boils down to an action-thriller with strong dramatic tendencies, and the cast and their director (of VERY BAD THINGS and THE RUNDOWN) are up to the task. It all starts with a bombing at a sports match, killing 100 U.S. and Muslim citizens (men, women, children) and escalates from there into a hunt for the perpetrators – a collaboration between FBI agents (Jamie Foxx, Chris Cooper, Jennifer Garner and wisecracking ARRESTED DEVELOPMENT alum Jason Bateman) and Saudi officials who want to cooperate. Foxx strikes up a rapport with the head Saudi officer in charge, and there’s real chemistry between them. The film is fast paced for a near two hour action drama, and the screenplay by Michael Carnahan (he also wrote Robert Redford’s LIONS FOR LAMBS, a genuine political thriller in the same season) is not full of lame cliches and annoyingly clipped testosterone-speak (at least not all the time). This makes for intelligent and enjoyable, if not too thought-provoking, fare ending with a chilling juxtaposition, and a disturbing (though seemingly benign) final image.

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IN THE VALLEY OF ELAH

Paul Haggis’ sophomore effort is a gripping police procedural, a gut-wrenching emotional drama, and a brilliant anti-war film all in one. Tommy Lee Jones is the former Military Police father of a soldier who doesn’t quite make it home from Iraq. When it appears his son’s been murdered in a field in Texas, Jones enlists the aid of a tough female detective (Charlize Theron) to investigate and finds some things out he wishes he hadn’t. Susan Sarandon is Jones’ wife, resentful of a husband who inspired (we sense, not intentionally) two sons to go to war, only to have them both be killed. Writer-director Haggis is the screenwriter behind Clint Eastwood’s “Million Dollar Baby” (in my humble opinion, the best film of 2004, and the Oscars agreed), and also wrote and directed the best film of 2005, “Crash” (which also won Best Picture). Here, he’s crafted an involving mystery, wrapped in deceit, cover-up and a heartbreaking human element. As Haggis peels back the layers of truth upon truth, the mystery gets more bizarre – though not as factually complex as it first seems. When the shocking truth is revealed, you will be confused, appalled, and have tears in your eyes. This is a great film; one of 2007’s best!

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<br/><br />NOTE: Jones was a (deserving) nominee for the Best Actor Oscar.

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DEATH PROOF

Writer-director Quentin Tarantino’s very good second half of the 190 minute exploitation double bill “Grindhouse” was released separately on DVD, and is longer and just as uneven as it was before. The film consists itself, of two halves: First, a group of cocky and pot-seeking young ‘thangs in Austin, Texas are targeted at a bar by a mystery man in a black car adorned by a lightning bolt print on the hood and a creepy silver duck ornament. The mystery man is Stuntman Mike (Kurt Russell, in typical Tarantino career reinvention mode), a murderous sociopath with a real hate on for all women, seemingly. The first group of girls is highlighted by the gorgeous and intriguingly Brooklyn(?)-accented Vanessa Ferlito and the monotone and fairly bland Sydney Tamiia Poitier (yes, Sidney’s daughter!). This stretch is dialogue heavy, culminating in a BRILLIANT car crash sequence set to a little known 70s/80s punk song (there’s even a monologue about its origins). Tarantino loves him some talking, so if an initial feeling of deja vu comes over you during the second half, don’t fret: Stuntman Mike decides to target a new set of girls – Rosario Dawson, stuntwoman Zoe Bell (as herself; she was Uma Thurman’s stand-in for KILL BILL), and Tracie Thoms (of RENT). These girls are tougher, seeking danger even before the “Death Proof” car reaches their tailpipe, and the violent, high-octane revenge-filled climax is exhilirating and satisfying. Stay for the ending credits – just for the great April March song and cutaway inserts!

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SHOOT ‘EM UP

Michael Davis’ “Shoot ‘Em Up” is demented, sick, twisted, horrible, crude, violent and disgusting… and I loved every second of it! Clive Owen stars as a mystery man in an unnamed urban setting who when we first meet him is sitting on a bench waiting for a bus. He is eating a carrot. Soon, a pregnant woman runs into an alleyway, chased by a hoodlum with a gun. Practically invited to join in, Owen soon follows and impales the man with the carrot through the eye. Soon, the man’s employer, a wisecracking and sadistic boss if ever there was (Paul Giamatti) is in hot pursuit. The woman gives birth and Owen must defend the baby’s life at all costs, which employs a specialist hooker (Monica Bellucci) as both a confidante and potential love interest.

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<br/>Odd, funny, insane, and every other synonym you can think of for wrong in every way possible, this is fun action cinema at its best!

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