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*** This review may contain spoilers ***
The Kingdom Directed by Peter Berg
One cannot but have a visceral response to The Kingdom. Acts of terror are meant to gut you or to grab you by the guts and not let go. One leaves this movie with acute discomfort in the viscera. The terror is central to the plot; the hatred which inspires it and the damage it inflicts are just the backdrop.
I wanted to go physically haul my friends out of Saudi Arabia, tell my friends at Aramco that it is first a life or death matter, for them and for us, and secondarily a moral imperative, that they leave their employ immediately. I wanted to stop the release of the movie because the details of the terror plot are too plausible, too easily imitated. Such is the emotional impact of the movie: it achieves the emotional stampede the terrorists wanted to ignite. And yet the depicted terror attacks on the American compound in Riyadh are based on details of attacks which have already occurred. The movie plot does not really goad or teach terrorists to do more; they've already seen these plans enacted. Past attacks are ratcheted up and stacked on top of each other for this movie, and they are horrifyingly successful within the movie's plot line.
Titles over a dizzying montage of real news clips and Frontline voice-overs give a too brief but effective overview of Saudi Arabia's recent history. We are on notice urgently and immediately that Saudi Arabia is a nation very, very different from ours, but that our commonality is Exxon-Mobil, Shell, and other names you know from the corner gas station. Some of the commentary on this movie by early previewers immediately launches into politically correct condemnation of scenes which emphasize "the gulf" between us, the Saudis and Americans. Some fear the perpetuation of Muslim "stereotypes" through the depiction of the terrorist cell. Perhaps their sensitivity blinds them to the fact that the hero of this movie is a Saudi policeman, empowered through (unlikely but) adroit manipulation by the American FBI team to achieve his greatest goal: to find and bring home responsibility to the foul fiend who makes it his practice to train children to kill children.
My biggest criticism of this movie is that the Hollywood dream team for the FBI, Jamie Foxx, Jennifer Garner, Chris Cooper and Jason Bateman, are the faces of the investigation, when the abuses and the risks of the investigation belong to Ali Suliman's character. Still, in Friday Night Light's intimate style, too-close-to-the-face hand-held camera work, somehow the humility of that talented but hand-tied policeman is subtly contrasted with the innate arrogance of the American team.
The resistance to allowing American investigators into Saudi Arabia is not overblown: that resistance is not just Saudi Arabian, and very genuine (see reports on investigations of the Kobar Tower bombing, the USS Cole bombing, and the deadly attack on American citizens in Jeddah, inter alia), but also, more cynically, American. The staggeringly improbable plot device that gets the American team into Riyadh is ridiculous, but the movie is educational as to how precarious the ruling class's grasp of power in Saudi Arabia truly is, and how important it is to the U.S. governmentand, oh yes, to the oil companies---that we support that regime.
The movie is an action-packed "procedural" whodunit imposed upon and interwoven with this complex inter cultural conflict. Jamie Foxx is the leader of the tiny FBI unit which blackmails its way into Saudi Arabia to investigate a very large crime. Mr. Foxx continues to do really good work. Jennifer Garner is still a kick-ass agent, even if she lacks some of the bionic qualities of her Alias persona. Chris Cooper brings that just-a-little-off sense of individualism to his role of the methodical but highly intuitive investigator. Jason Bateman is the one who doesn't fit. To join such an elite team, he must possess extraordinary gifts to make him valuable, but what those gifts are is a mystery. He is obnoxious, cringingly ignorant of and insensitive to the Saudi culture, and I suppose we must have that character, but he seems to be best-all-round only at being the weakest link, not coming across as particularly smart or competent.
The action sequences are amazing. The car chase/crash scene outdoes The Matrix Reloaded, which set a pretty high benchmark. Explosions and gunfights abound. As an action movie, it scores well.
But as I said, the hero of the piece is a Saudi policeman, Ali Suliman (Paradise Now), on whose shoulders rests the responsibility of imposing civilization on terrorists who plot to destroy decency and any semblance of common humanity. The vignettes with his family are some of the most poignant in the movie. His compelling conversation with a former terrorist now doing "community service" is interrupted needlessly by Jamie Foxx's character. As goal-driven as he is, this is a family man, a decent man, who stands for the best possible values of the Arab world, in spite of some strong forces which might have pushed a lesser man into sympathy with the terrorists.
I hope that Berg will change the final moments of the film. He abandons the subtlety of his earlier observational style for sledgehammer didacticism. Jamie Foxx's final comment doesn't even make sense, in context of the plot. Far better to return to an open question, whether children can overcome an education steeped in prejudice and a steady diet of hatred to forge a better world, or whether killing each other is just too much fun. Berg should forego his too-tidy, too trite symmetry, and leave the viscera to do their work.
Adequately entertaining. Billy Bob Thornton and Jon Heder make mildly
interesting, obviously unmatched adversaries. Talented supporting cast
also supplies some interest, but no character is fully developed.
Michael Clarke Duncan comes the closest, but his hostility, his back
story, his orientation is unexplained and sometimes inexplicable.
Jacinda Barrett plays a nice girl, and does a nice job. Some laughs,
interrupted by huge plot holes. What is Sarah Silverman doing, except
The premise is funny. Who hasn't felt like "the nice guy who finishes last", with the exception of people like the self-proclaimed "Doctor P", Billy Bob Thornton, who teaches the class of the weak and the meek to become lions. The overall mediocrity of the mess is pretty much attributable to director Todd Phillips ("Old School", "Starsky and Hutch"). Wait for the DVD, and rent it for $1.00; don't buy it.
*** This review may contain spoilers ***
Had this movie sustained the cinematic brilliance of its first few
minutes, there is no question that it would have been something so out
of the ordinary as to become an instant classic. As it is, it may have
some cross-and-jostle work to establish itself as one of the Movies of
the Year to see, but its flashes of original genius strung together
with an operatic plot and dynamic cinematography, make a necklace of
great flash and fire. Surely this one, with its embarrassment of
talent, will be mentioned in several categories, not only music, at
Oscar time. Worth seeing--- absolutely. I can hardly wait for the DVD,
so that I can watch its excess to excess.
The film is going to have a generational promotional gap, not just the much-discussed racial one. It can't be dismissed as "the hip-hop Moulin Rouge", as I heard one member of our preview audience critique it coming out of the theater. If she were old enough, she would know that it's more akin to a "hip-hop Caberet", with Rooster (Antwan Andre "Big Boi" Patton of Outkast) as Sally Bowles. Director Bryan Barber may have modelled some camera work on Baz Lurman's spinning kaleidoscopic style, but it is more likely that his music video background was a stronger influence. While there are some similar plot points, this is not really "Moulin Noir"-- but kudos to the cleverness of that shorthand review.
Let's don't go there. Let's talk about what's blazingly new and fresh about this musical. For people who "hate musicals", this one (as Cabaret did) solves the problem of two people in face-to-face dialogue embarrassingly and improbably breaking into song. The musical numbers are the entertainment at "The Church", a speakeasy in the South during Prohibition Era. Entertainment which does have Moulin Rouge's flamboyance, combining a jazz age lindy-hop with hip hop, is dazzlingly choreographed by Tony Award winner Hinton Battle. While Macy Grey is wonderful as a hard-edged club singer, it is Rooster's first musical number at the Church, fusing jazz, cabaret and hip-hop, which blows the lid off.
OutKast fans (I count myself one) have to wait for plot development for the introverted Percival, played by Andre Benjamin, to display his musical talent. We are told it is there from the beginning of the movie, but it is not until he breaks out of his shell to coax the beautiful singer Angel Davenport(Paula Patton) to live her dream that he overcomes his stage fright and showcases his music. And there, ladies and gentlemen, is the centerpiece musical sparkler of this necklace, an impossible fusion number which turns sensational when performed with confidence and style. Oh, my! What talent will do with notes on a page!
"The Church", wryly named to showcase the corruption of bootleg liquor running, gambling and prostitution, is the hang-out for the dapper gangsta-land "Spats", Ving Rhames, who keeps the lid on violence in the "Showtime at the Apollo" club atmosphere and the dangerous business of squeezing both his booze supplier and the club owner, Sunshine Ace. We despise Ace more than anyone in the movie, until we get to know Trumpy (chillingly played by the gorgeous Terence Howard), who also comes out of his "shell" to reveal himself as a stupid and sadistic killer. The odd flatness of Howard's voice is powerfully used here to underscore his stupidity and the delight he has in killing people.
When greats like Ben Vereen and Cicely Tyson are little more than cameos, you know you have talent to spare. My one concern is that the music style may be too much fusion to keep the hip-hop fans happy, and the movie may be too hip-hop to attract the general audience it deserves. The horrid truth is that I am a middle-aged white woman, one of the two demographic segments supposed to love musicals. But while my credibility is suspect, my general film-critiquing skills are generally pretty solid. Abandon your preconceptions and your prejudices, whatever they are, and Just Go See.
Although American Dreamz has moments of socially redeeming value and a
really impressive cast, it is neither satire, nor is it particularly
"smart". But it is being called both. It is broad, very unsubtle farce:
not that there's anything wrong with farce as a genre----Shakespeare
wrote some good ones, but Paul Weitz is no Shakespeare. (For an example
of smart satire,see "Thank You for Smoking".) Laughs here are mostly
dutiful or nervous. This reminded me of some cross between amateurish
college skits, all dressed up with Hollywood production values and
way-overdone make-up, and "Saturday Night Live" with too much time on
its hands---cobbled together with an uneasy terrorist plot twist.
Written and directed by Paul Weitz, director of "American Pie" and
"About a Boy", this movie's reach exceeds its grasp: aiming for the
"About a Boy" audience, it hits "American Pie" humor, if it hits,
It's simply too easy to lampoon George W. Bush (overplayed by Dennis Quaid as a ventriloquist's dummy) for too many things, and it's been done. Marcia Gaye Hardin plays a very respectable Laura Bush clone. A sly casting touch is having Willem Dafoe eerily made up as a cross between Dick Cheney and Donald Rumsfield, being the puppeteer and the ventriloquist behind the President. Hugh Grant is far too charming to be able to carry off this version of the loutish and soulless "Simon Cowell"-style host of "American Dreamz".
Since the show gets more votes than are cast in Presidential elections, this Administration decides to bolster sagging poll numbers by having the President appear as a guest judge on "American Dreamz". Mandy Moore is quite good as the ambitious "babe" contestant, and Shohreh Aghdashloo, an Oscar contender for her supporting role in "House of Sand and Fog", is a gem who sparkles whenever she is on screen, however small the role. I was baffled as to why Chris Klein seemed to be either trying to channel or satirize Keanu Reeves, but while it was difficult to tell which, it was not a particularly worthwhile exercise. (I would personally rather have seen Keanu Reeves.) Sam Golzari, playing the accidental Arab contestant who happens to be a member of a terrorist sleeper cell, slowly grows on you as he "Omer-izes" his Dreamz audience, but it is Omer's American family which has by far the best scenes.
The movie is overly ambitious as farce, and yet mostly tries to go for easy laughs. At its most uncomfortable, it appeared to be trying misguidedly and ham-handedly to parody "Paradise Now" or "The War Within", both serious, excellent movies, both nominated for major awards. "American Dreamz" may qualify for Razzie nominations in costume and make-up.
It might be as important a movie as it wants to be when in a distant century, the DVD is discovered under rubble or taken out of a time capsule for an historical comparison of our pop culture obsession with the "bread and circuses" mentality near the end of the Roman Empire. But the narcissism of the movie itself will be the best argument for our willingness to try to find an intellectual excuse or even entertainment where there is so little.
You'll need to inhale, then exhale slowly and relax before plunging
into the world of Nick Naylor (Aaron Eckhart), lobbyist and bag man for
the Tobacco Industry. The laughs are some of the best abdominal
exercise I've ever had at the movies. Thank You for Smoking is far and
away the best satire to come out of Hollywood in years. The last
attempt I remember was WAG THE DOG. This film is far better at true
satire, its wit biting do-gooders and do-badders alike. It has been too
long since Satire and the Politically Incorrect Sense of Humor have
been allowed to point out the absurd in all sides of an issue. If you
don't laugh out loud, your sense of humor has become a casualty of
malpractice by the Doctors of Spin and the Nursemaids of Political
Young Jason Reitman's direction and screenplay are deft and light. He is never heavy-handed, or worse, condescending (as may have happened more than once in WAG THE DOG). Based on a novel by Christopher Buckley (the son of William F. Buckley), the script is the star here. The double, triple, and sometimes quadruple entendres are spoken conversationally by a star-studded ensemble cast, who clearly revel in great material and great lines. Every reviewer opines that this will be Aaron Eckhart's break-out role. With his Dudley-Do-Right face and "that guy who always gets the girl----- on crack" charm and glibness, his Nick Naylor is the ultimate purveyor of the spin doctor's prescription: "the means justify the end".
The casting director should be congratulated in the same breath as the director. Rob Lowe as the "genius" behind Hollywood "EGO", a consultant firm which helps raise financing for movies with strategic product placement, is note-perfect in a "small role". With William H. Macy, the Vermont Senator who takes on the tobacco industry, Maria Bello, a fellow Merchant of Death lobbyist, and Robert Duvall, the "Captain" of this particular industry--- the cast is jaw-dropping, and sublimely funny. Katie Holmes, pre-TomKat, is gorgeous, seductive, and completely believable as the reporter who stops at nothing to get her story.
Nick Naylor's relationship with his son is the lens which focuses Nick on his own behavior. Even that relationship is not treated as a cliché, or completely reverently by the satirist, who remains true to the last frame to the goal of letting the air out of our self-righteousness. It is a breath of fresh air. I not only recommend it, I intend to see it again.
The dilemma: I hate boxing movies; I love Russell Crowe movies. I've
already seen "Million Dollar Baby" and "Raging Bull" this year, and
accidentally watched part of one of the "son of Rocky" serial movies on
a Saturday afternoon. I feel like I am being punched, as Renee'
Zellwegger's character Mae Braddock says, and I'm not as tough as these
But this one has Russell Crowe in it. And that makes all the difference.
It is not that Renee Zellwegger and Paul Giamatti, Paddy Considine, Bruce McGill and Craig Bierko, among others, give less than stellar performances: they all live up to their justifiably great reputations. You have to believe they are at the top of their game. But for all of Russell Crowe's reputation for being "difficult", it is hard to think of actors who can equal his personal force on the screen. He is brilliant.
Ron Howard has made of the real life of Depression-era prize-fighter James J. Braddock a work of art. The camera work is phenomenal. Without using violins or cliché' pull-back shots showing the numbers of people homeless and in soup lines, Howard makes the Depression a visceral reality with scenes of near-hopeless men at the docks, pleading for a day's work; a stolen salami; Crowe's giving his daughter his breakfast piece of bologna, telling her he dreamed he was full. The bleakness of the times is the graininess and the sepia/greyness of the camera shots; the images are stark but completely descriptive. Crowe as Braddock with hat in hand and tears in his eyes, begging for twenty dollars so he can get his children back into his home, is the personification of pride sacrificed to desperation. But when Braddock is later asked at a press conference why he is fighting at his age and after so many poor showings, all he has to say is "milk" to be supremely eloquent.
Doubtless many people know the history of James Braddock, and know the outcome of his fights, including the championship bout with Max Baer, who had already killed two men in the ring. If you don't know, DON'T look it up before you see the movie, and if you DO KNOW, DON'T TELL, but go. Analogous to watching Howard's film "Apollo 13", you may know the outcome, but there's wonderful suspense in the details. These were among the most exciting last twenty minutes I've seen on film. I didn't expect to be able to watch, but like Braddock's terrified wife Mae, I was unable to tear myself away.
The audience was like a prize fight audience, cheering, booing, gasping, groaning during the fights. We applauded Braddock's wins, suffered his defeats. It is a great movie, with authentic heart. Solid A.
One powerful theme in "The Smartest Guys in the Room" is expressly
articulated and repeated for emphasis: this is the story of people, not
arcane financial accounting methods or numbers, and because it is
people, it can happen again. Enron is just the manifestation of the
evil begotten by hubris, in spectacularly public fashion. It is classic
Greek tragedy, and it is one from which its chief protagonists, Ken Lay
and Jeff Skilling, must not escape.
Yes, it is a movie with a point of view, but this is not a Michael Moore documentary. Director Alex Gibney brilliantly tells the story simply by interviewing people who were participants in the events, showing the time lines of those events, and interweaving an astonishing amount of video and audio footage taped at Enron, by Enron itself. The movie resolved for me the question: "What did they know, and when did they know it?" They knew. They not only knew; they designed the company to be the ultimate shell game, with no pea. The only thing Enron ever had to sell was its stock price. And they did know that was their only product.
As a Houstonian, I admit that I, a supposedly sophisticated business professional, was intimidated by Enron's assertion in its glory days that the reason I didn't understand its business was just that I wasn't smart enough. My friends, managers and lawyers, some from Harvard thenselves, also admit to the same intimidation. It was not that the questions were not being asked; it was just that we were silenced when Enron avowed that they were the smartest guys in the room. They asserted it, and we believed them. Thank good Fortune that one reporter, Bethany McLean, in almost too soft a voice to be credible as a giant killer, kept asking.
I wish this movie might inspire a larger remedy than the one being attempted by the Department of Justice. Why doesn't Harvard deny admission to people like Jeff Skilling, who, when questioned in his entrance interview whether he was smart, replied, "I'm (expletive deleted) smart"? Why isn't some humility and modesty still ranked a virtue? Why do we celebrate the rise of the specialist educated only in his field, and wholly ignorant of the inevitability of the fall of the Greek protagonist who becomes blinded by arrogance, power, greed---- in short, hubris? Why is ethics a specialty study, instead of integral to every field of study? I sat open-mouthed as the tape showed Jeff Skilling seriously selling a new business idea: selling futures in the weather. He parodied himself on tape: he had a new, better idea than the "mark to market" booking which allowed Enron to book future theoretical profits once they had signed a deal; now he would institute "hypothetical to book", booking profits as soon as he had an idea. What, ultimately, was the difference between the parody and the reality? The horror of listening to traders, who sat in a room directly below Ken Lay and Jeff Skilling, with staircases between their executive offices and the trading floor, laughing at the misery they were inflicting on California as they extorted profits from that misery, leaves me outraged long after the movie is over. They threatened and may have cost lives with their fraudulent tactics. They admit it on tape, laughing. They knew. It was their business plan. To make Andrew Fastow the scapegoat for what Enron was developing as its business plan before he was ever hired is simply the continuation of the shell game with no pea. Look for the "designated fall guy". They still think they are the smartest guys in the room.
No, I'll never be selected for the jury pool now, but I wouldn't have been anyway. I'll buy the DVD and watch it a few times during the trials and seethe, lest I forget. Excellent movie, the best kind of documentary.
*** This review may contain spoilers ***
Not only an endearing, entertaining and environmentally intelligent
documentary, this film is also funny, thought-provoking and inspiring.
The story of Mark Bittner's journey to become the expert on and the
caretaker of the flock of wild parrots of Telegraph Hill, while
avoiding most of the appearances of being connected to society or to
society's values along the way, certainly makes one wonder about the
importance of some of the taken-for-granted symbols of success. The
respect he earns for the study of the birds is a result of the
intelligence, sensitivity, and acute observation skills he brings to
his passion, while he wryly maintains a charmingly self-deprecating
view of himself-- even if he DOES deny being eccentric. What's wrong
with eccentric? It is a movie about the parrots as much as about Mark.
If you can watch this movie and not be convinced of the individuality
of the birds' personalities, then you are hopelessly anthropocentric.
If you watch Mingus dance and are not convinced he's enjoying the
music, or if Connor's story in no way moves you, then you may have
become far too limited in your view of the world; a bird's eye view is
certainly called for. This is a quirky and lovely story, lovingly told.
I did not find the ending to be a surprise, as many did, but agree that
it was uplifting.
Congratulations to director Judy Irving. Like the other reviewers, I will buy the DVD because this is one I'll want to see again over time. A-
My hopes were great for this film. What a cast and what a story! One of
the most significant figures in history, a compelling and charismatic
leader and magnificent military strategist whose personal courage was
legendary in his own day, perhaps one of the first true
"internationalists" in history, educated by Aristotle---- how could
this possibly fail to be one of the most fascinating historical epics
of recent memory?
Alexander's back story was brilliantly suited for the rising tension and paranoia Oliver Stone brought to the screen so well in "JFK". Even if you couldn't agree with Stone's version of "history" in that movie, you had to be affected by mounting apprehension and suspicion.
With the murderous war between Olympia, Alexander's mother, and Philip of Macedonia, the father who so strongly influenced him and who paved the way for his world-conqueror son as the backdrop for Alexander's youth, the themes of suspicion and violent intrigue could have carried the film emotionally through Alexander's own death just before his thirty-third birthday. Or themes of triumph about greatness could have made the movie inspiring.
Instead, the film is emotionally flat, killed in the first five minutes by a tedious and unnecessary monologue by Anthony Hopkins (mis-used terribly) as Ptolemy, the historian, describing the greatness of Alexander as a leader, and telling us he's dead. Where was the editor of this film?!? Don't tell us; show us!!! In fact, so many of the significant events of Alexander's life occur off-screen (the murder of his father, for example, rumored to have been engineered by his scheming mother) and are simply told to us by Ptolemy, that the movie never achieves any emotional traction at all. It is tedious and boring, and WAY too long. One of the best comments I've seen: "Come back, "Troy", all is forgiven."
There are films which you don't like because the film isn't to your taste; then there are movies which are just bad movies. This is a bad movie: a truly awful script, a complete waste of some talented actors, and direction so awful that the audience was laughing during the (very, very few) moments of supposed high drama and tension. The CGI portions of the battle scenes were amateurish, and other CGI effects were garish and distractingly inconsistent. Perhaps Stone is trying to get away from the too-realistic depiction of wars and battles from recent years. If so, he succeeded beyond his wildest hopes.The "eagle's eye view" of one battle has frequently been better done by "Beastmaster", Warner Brothers' middle-of-the-night TV comic book/sci-fi/mythology adventure series. In one scene it was evident that someone was holding the eagle.
Beyond "film flubs", this movie is a quilt work of cinematographic mistakes. The prosthetic device that covers Val Kilmer's eye to indicate the one-eyed Philip of Macedonia later shows up on another character. Similarly, an elaborate and unique headpiece worn by a Babylonian princess reappears on a woman in Asia. There are too many "flubs" to detail, but the fact that I noticed them in the first viewing of this film (and I am not typically this critical at a first viewing) is an indication of how little else was going on in the story. When Alexander marries a woman who looks amazingly like his mother (but I know Angelina Jolie, and believe me, she's no Angelina Jolie), the camera work done to show us the similarity is so heavy-handed that you can almost hear Stone screaming through his megaphone: "See, she looks like his mother, you morons!"
As much as I enjoy watching Colin Farrell, I felt bad for him being the lead in this movie. He seems an obvious choice, capable of exuding much power, but the script doesn't serve him well. Val Kilmer brings some energy to the screen as Philip of Macedonia, even if he is portrayed as mostly a drunken lout. Only Angelina Jolie fares well. She mesmerizing holds the camera, and somehow convinces us she is Alexander's devious mother, which is a feat in itself. Connor Paolo, as the young Alexander, did a wonderful job, and his scene taming Bucephalas, the legendary war horse, was perhaps one of the few which demonstrated the qualities within Alexander that made him "The Great". Farrell wasn't given any of those scenes to do; Hopkins as the historian described them for us.
Don't be either drawn in or put off by the hype about the depiction of Alexander's alleged homosexual love affairs with his childhood friend Hephaestion or the Persian slave Bagoas. There are some moist-eyed looks and some hugs, and perhaps half-a-dozen lines referring to the relationships in the first two hours of the movie. It is falsely generated controversy, designed to stir up interest in a movie which doesn't establish any emotional bond with its audience. In my opinion, we should be far more concerned about the fact that the sex scenes with women are violent rapes. The second one, on Alexander's wedding night, designed to be dramatically overwrought, however, drew laughs from the audience because it was just so badly directed.
This is a big budget fiasco. Rent "Ishtar", and save your money. Or wait until it comes out on DVD, rent it, and use it as a drinking game with your friends. Even better, let's see what Baz Luhrmann does with the story next year, or what Ilya Salkind's version looks like. I hadn't realized until this movie that Alexander was "Stoned" to death. Grade: F