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Monthly Archives: August 2007

Lame attempt at humor by Jason Bateman. Condescending portrayal of Muslims. Sentimental scene with Jamie Foxx. So goes the absurdly calculated first eighty minutes of Peter Berg’s The Kingdom, not to mention an animation of the attack on the World Trade Center that serves only to manipulate and evoke patriotism; all it truly does, though, is offend. Unfortunately, this is not the only image in the film that has that effect.

Beginning with a brief history that quickly and unsypathetically establishes the Saudis as the enemy, Berg then makes clear that Ronald Fleury (Foxx), a U.S. government agent, is a likable guy through a cliche and disingenuous scene at his son’s school. Fleury, but not the audience, is then sucked into a mission to investigate an American facility in Saudi Arabia. As they do so, Berg’s claustrophobic camerawork and some hyper-editing disrupt the film’s tone and identity. It becomes a procedural-comedy-action-drama-post- 9/11 mess. Comedic actors Bateman and Entourage’s Jeremy Piven are there just for laughs, so they can’t deliver in the serious moments. Jennifer Garner proves herself a one-note actress, while Chris Cooper, the always good character actor, and Foxx excel.

Once the team enters ‘The Kingdom’ and begins the investigation, the film begins to generalize and offend. Exploiting the Saudis, Berg continually reminds that the agents are in an area populated heavily by Muslims. Meanwhile, he neglects to portray the Saudi Arabian aids as the religious persons that they are. This manipulation subverts any potentially moving scene later in the film. Also inhibiting the film’s impact is its over-the-top flag waving. The squad is portrayed as heroes simply because they are Americans, as opposed to a film like United 93, where the characters are heroes because of their accomplishments. The sappy score and overacting in the last twenty minutes contribute to this effect.

Despite all the distractions, some of the action scenes, if taken completely out of context, are expertly crafted and exciting. This is where the rapid cutting does work, since it appears the editors attempted to maintain a constant pace and tempo throughout the film. Foxx is perfectly intense when he needs to be and more relaxed in the interim, while the other actors are largely playing types rather than dynamic characters. This includes many of the Saudis, who simply fill stereotypes.

The Kingdom’s strengths are still undermined by the formulaic nature of the opening act and the Berg’s manipulation through patriotic sentiment. Since it tackles such a serious subject and fails, the film is truly offensive. D+

The Kingdom opens September 28th.


From the comedy hit factory that is Apatow productions comes their first film about teenagers. There are several characteristics that may define an Apatow film (though, remember it was not him but Greg Mottola who directed this one): it’s raunchy and R-rated, it has actors that are neither unknown nor big stars, and, without much doubt, it’s really funny. Superbad, the latest, fits those criteria perfectly, though that doesn’t make it a perfect film.

Cera and Hill

Going in, I thought I would be seeing The Seventeen-Year-Old Virgins. The difference from the Steve Carell hit – it’s a buddy story, all the characters really want is sex, and it’s a bit more sentimental. While these factors don’t make it a less entertaining film, the execution certainly does. The script, penned by Seth Rogen (Knocked Up, also with a part in Superbad) and his childhood buddy Evan Goldberg, feels exactly as it should, given the circumstances. The two said the wrote it as teenagers just to see if they could write a movie. I don’t know how many changes were made to the original screenplay, but it certainly still feels like it was more of an experiment than a well structured story-line. The film gets way too caught up in a mess of unbelievable subplots. Before that, the first thirty minutes, which takes place during the school day, is one of the most realistic depictions of high school ever committed to film, besides being the funniest part of the movie. Soon after, the film nearly nosedives. Fogell aka McLovin ends up hanging out with two absurd cops (Rogen and Bill Hader). The two are clearly improvising at least half of their lines, most of which have no grounding in reality and, therefore, aren’t particularly funny. Meanwhile, Seth and Evan (Jonah Hill and Michael Cera) mysteriously end up at some adult party where they attempt to steal booze. Of course, the task proves difficult, and the two are separated for a while, a device that seems placed only so the two can make amends at the end and provide some rather sappy but ineffective scenes. Some jokes kind of linger in a way that forces you to laugh, then wonder when the story will continue.

Having said all that, I still laughed really hard at the film and thoroughly enjoyed the elements I could identify with, though they were a bit too sporadic. It always feels like Rogen and Goldberg’s script is running the show, rather than Mottola. I’m interested to see what the two may do next, but more eagerly anticipate the next film under Apatow’s directorial reins. B

Like a child, I giddily strolled into the theater for Paul Greengrass’ latest installment in the Bourne series. Of course my expectations were high, Greengrass being one of my favorited working directors and considering the previous Bourne films to be the best action movies of the decade. Though I could simply say that my expectations were met as far as how much I enjoyed the film, the experience I had was rather surprising.
Damon and Greengrass at the premiere
Despite my anticipation for the film, I realized sitting down that I wasn’t in much of a mood to see a movie. As the film opened, I was completely sucked in and my attitude completely changed. This is what made the movie so exciting for me: when I’m not in the mood to watch a movie, it’s almost a guarantee that I won’t like it. The effect the first moments of the film had on me prove that this film truly is for everyone, whether you think you would be interested in it or not. And how couldn’t you – nonstop action, genuine suspense, Matt Damon for all the ladies. As Bourne races from one exotic location to the next, I was barely conscious of where he was. It didn’t matter because Greengrass makes clear what he is trying to achieve in each scene as well as throughout the film. This time seeking revenge, its more personal than the first one. Despite rarely speaking, Bourne’s character is much more developed and dynamic. While some may argue that they don’t care about the characters, they don’t realize what makes the action exciting and suspenseful as well as providing a meaningful payoff.

As for Greengrass’ direction, it’s nearly flawless. Many internet whiners say the shaky-cam is overused and distracting, but this is naivety. Those same people may still praise the film’s grittiness compared to some recent James Bond films (excluding Casino Royale). Greengrass’ technique is what allows for such a gripping film and what makes the action so enjoyable to watch. It’s unique and it feels real. Maybe the only fault of the film is its repetitiveness. Though noticeable, it doesn’t make each action scene less exciting, just a little less momentous.

Greengrass, before the film was released, said that if they made another, it would have to be called The Bourne Redundancy. Though his humility is admirable, he should put more faith in his ability to tell a good story and appeal to a wide audience. I can’t help but imagine what he would bring (or would have brought) to a franchise like the Spiderman or Pirates movies. Still, I’m glad he ended up with Bourne; there couldn’t have been a better man for the job. A-

Walking out of Rescue Dawn, I couldn’t help but compare the film to Transformers. Yes, I am indeed likening Michael Bay to German legend Werner Herzog. The reason I did so was to examine exactly why I disliked Transformers so much and why I was more excited by this film. The conclusion I drew was that Transformers is beginning to end action that provides no real thrills or pay off. Rescue Dawn’s action is sparse but more meaningful and exciting.

Zahn and Bale

Telling the true story of German-born Dieter Dengler, a pilot for the Navy during the Vietnam War. Herzog has actually already made a movie about Dengler, 1997’s Little Dieter Needs to Fly. The title of that film refers to Dengler’s lifelong dream to become a pilot. When his dream finally comes true, however, he is shot down over Laos and captured. The first thirty minutes of the film were a bit surprising in that I had a hard time getting into it. Soon, though, I realized it was because I had not watched the documentary and, therefore, was not familiar with Dengler’s persona. The man was quite eccentric and even a bit awkward, but as the film proceeds, I realized the Bale’s performance was truly captivating. Once he ends up in a prison camp, the film really takes off. Herzog, known for his portrayals of man vs. nature, never lets the audience forget that the jungle is the real antagonist, not the Viet Cong. That’s part of what makes this film so unique; it is by no means another Vietnam War movie. In fact, it made me question what made Herzog include some archival footage at the beginning of some bombings. Still, once Dengler (Bale) and fellow captive Duane Martin (Steve Zahn) plan their escape, the suspense is nearly unbearable. I found myself utterly transfixed by their journey and truly began to understand why Herzog chose this story to retell. It’s the ultimate Man vs. Wild tale, and there’s no better person to tell it. Each shot is a perfect juxtaposition of Dengler and the jungle that haunts him.

I haven’t been so moved by a film in many years, and I was quite surprised it had this effect on me. In fact, the last time I got teary-eyed at a movie might have been My Dog Skip (I know, I’m heartless). I didn’t cry, but the film was still incredibly powerful. Until the last scene, that is. Though I won’t go into detail, the scene almost completely kills the moment. I would have otherwise been stuck to my seat for several minutes as the credits rolled, but instead I immediately got up and left pretending that the last three minutes didn’t exist. A-