Tuesday, January 01, 2008


I have a lot of movies to review, but here are the two I watched last night.

THE KINGDOM (2007) – I didn’t expect much from this what with the Tomatometer at around 50%, and its obvious play to the masses trailer and marketing. But you can’t really understand modern film by watching nothing but Indies and message pictures.

Movies like THE KINGDOM are the modern day equivalent of forties films like Guadalcanal Diary and the Story of G.I. Joe that try to tell the story of individuals in a time of war. The difference with modern film is the tendency toward “the enemy is us” approach or the moral equivalence between our side and theirs. While I disagree with that worldview and it’s a deal breaker as a premise, it’s only a mild annoyance as an attribute, and this movie only touches on the idea. It’s more interested in having our heroes solve the mystery. The premise is that an American compound of oil workers and their families in Saudi Arabia are attacked by a mad bomber and a stateside FBI team led by Jamie Foxx wants to travel to Saudi Arabia and investigate.

The conflict and politics behind whether Foxx and his team can go to Saudi Arabia is a bit overplayed, especially in that Foxx’s career is at risk for some reason. But the FBI director played by Richard Jenkins delivers a wonderfully written speech to the Attorney General who is against the trip. Jenkins explains how as a young soldier General Westmoreland told them all to write their obituaries and Jenkins explains how knowing you are going to die changes the way you approach life. And knowing you won’t have a job forever makes it easier to make the right choice over the popular one. I wish I had written the speech, because it’s my own philosophy about such things though I have never articulated it quite so well.

Of course our heroes wind up in Saudi Arabia to investigate and they are met with wary Saudis some they eventually win over. The team consists of Jennifer Garner who can’t deliver believable dialogue though she seems competent removing shrapnel from bodies, Chris Cooper the explosives expert on board to deliver the countrified common sense, and the resurgent Jason Bateman, a computer expert and smartass. Jeremy Piven is the American Ambassador who plays a variation of his character Ari on Entourage.

The conflict of the two cultures is played decently and the mutual respect gained after a period of time is to the Hollywood standard in such matters. There is not much surprise anywhere, but Foxx and company are compelling enough people and the mystery is revealed at about the right speed. The big minus is the overuse of that frenetic camera. The point of being in the audience is not to be a character in the film but an observer. When will Hollywood kill this annoying device?

The big climactic action scene is played out decently with good tension, but there is a weird sitcom type moment right after the resolution. That kind of thing works better with Bruce or Arnold. Here it seemed discordant.

Overall I think this movie can be enjoyed if your expectations are middling. One piece of advice given by a co-worker who saw the movie, he felt like is was tilled ground already since he watches a lot of 24 and the like. I have never seen a episode of 24 so I am much fresher eyes.

EASTERN PROMISES (2007) Viggo Mortensen stars for David Cronenberg again and Viggo has another secret. He’s the driver for the Russian mob in London. The leader of the mob is the unassuming restaurateur played by the always interesting Armin Mueller-Stal. Naomi Watts is the spunky female trying to get to the bottom of why a young pregnant Russian girl is dead.

I’ll admit that I don’t always get Cronenberg and I think it’s because I’m not a horror fan and even his non horror movies use horror violence instead of action movie violence. The technique is disruptive to the language of film and screams out “Cronenberg” at key moments in a movie. I’ll further admit that I liked both of his last two films despite that.

I really liked the premise of A HISTORY OF VIOLENCE and would have liked the film more had they bypassed the bizarre William Hurt confrontation. EASTERN PROMISES has good enough premise, but the overall handling of the film is better I think and more rewarding.

1 comment:

Dude said...

A few random points:

I have similar ambivalence towards Cronenberg but A HISTORY OF VIOLENCE is one of the best films I've seen in the past few years.

The career-in-jeopardy card is oft overplayed but I suppose men can identify with that situation better than the cheesy alternative of the wife on the brink of leaving.

Bateman and Garner also appear in JUNO. I have always loved Bateman and I'm glad to see his resurgence. He was missing for so long before ARRESTED DEVELOPMENT that when Jerry O'Connell came on the scene, I was pretty sure it was Bateman for awhile.

I get similarly confused between Henry Thomas and Jeremy Davies but I'm working through that.

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