Oct

22

While imperfect, "The Kingdom" addresses the push me/pull me aspect of our ''allies", the Saudis. They are 'helpful' when face to face, less helpful in all other encounters, making redress of terrorist outrages hard to accomplish. (By the way Jamie Foxx gets better and better). The film spent months being sampled and screened, ostensibly waiting for a new hook of some sort of terrorist explosion that, thankfully, failed to materialize. Jennifer Garner is in the film, barely; I was hard-put to explain what she was doing there, especially given her unSaudi skivvies and camo gear. (Where was the official complaint from the royals? Where was her burqa?) The thumbnail non-Robert Wuhl mini-history at the start of the film is alone worth the trek to the ‘plex. In its complex back and forth of Saudi cooperation, hostility, insolence and veiled hatred in the unraveling of blame for a ghastly explosion killing many Americans resident in the US compound there, the film serves to remind viewers that Saudi Arabia is but another of the many coiled snakes hissing at us with forked intentions in that part of the globe. This movie is what I like to call an actioner. The last part of “Kingdom” releases weeks of your suppressed animosities and rage with its shooting, carnage and revenge opera. My kind of flick.

Reservation Road” could be termed a non-buddy film starring two strong male actors who otherwise would be viewed as likely Butch Cassidy and Sundance Kid types. In the film, tension over an accidental fatal hit-and-run builds almost unbearably, with the audience subtly cheering on the perpetrator of the crime, Mark Ruffalo, as the sympathetic hero, versus the obsessional, unrelenting Jean ValJean [anti-]hero of Joaquin Phoenix. Both men turn in taut and stomach-churning performances, abetted by the somewhat over-the-top ministrations of the ever lovely Jennifer Connelly. Computer search plays as large a role as any of the live actors.

Sleuth” reprises the film and dramatic Broadway productions of the past 30 some years, starring Michael Caine as the older, wealthier, cuckolded older playwright, and the handsome, feckless but not unresourceful Jude Law in the role once played by both Michael Caine and the late and much-missed Christopher Reeve. This too is a non-buddy partnering of matched opposites, with the sleek, techno-gee-whiz centerpiece home of the older Caine playing a significant role in the proceedings. Law is having it on with Caine’s lissome missus, and Caine makes Law pay for every illicit assignation. But getting to the dénouement is more than half the frissonage and fun. It has its charms, especially if you haven’t seen the earlier incarnations of this classic standby of point-counterpoint of men over a woman. And of course, it’s more about matching wits against an egregious opponent than it is about jousting for the favor of the female.

Melancholy and occasionally plain unbelievable, the film instantiation of the popular book by Gabriel Garcia Marquez, “Love in a Time of Cholera,” features amiable and unforced performances by Javier Bardem and numerous buxom beauties, much breastly bareness, and the requiting of long, long unrequited flames from youth. The protagonists age astoundingly gracefully over the course of 50 years, and the heroine is only the slightest bit tinged by the passing cavalcade of annii. Bardem has his way with ladies only too willing to avail themselves of him for some reason (he asserts after 616 or so that it is because he is so “accommodating,” but he has the temerity to tell his long-lost love after all these on-screen assignations that he has—of all the brazen balls!—remained a virgin waiting for his one true love). Early on, the capable Liev Shreiber and incendiary John Leguizamo perk up the film, largely wasted talent cameos that go nowhere, apparently. The book was less unlikely, though there is always a surrealistic, almost hyper-fantastic element to the works of Marquez.

Probably a strong contender for the Oscars is Philip Seymour Hoffman’s gritty and thrombotic performance in “Before the Devil Knows You’re Dead,” also starring Albert Finney, a sclerotic Ethan Hawke, a sometimes-nude Marisa Tomei, and a tight ensemble in this heist gone terribly wrong for all the tragic yet expectable reasons. I thought nothing could top Hoffman’s Truman Capote, but this one is feral and dark, unforgiving in its sweaty trajectory into the unforgiving abyss. Not one character in the lot has a smile for the entire duration. Surprising passages give the viewer a dyspeptic view into his or her own difficult yet rationalized moments. This film was probably the poster child for that despairing not-so-bon mot: “Sh!t happens.”

The most important of the documentaries seen recently is “Unknown Soldier,” which puts the lie to those tunnel-visioned Germans who for the past 60 years pretended only the SS was responsible for tormenting, abusing and killing average Jewish citizens in Germany during the lead-up to WWII and the infamous Camps. The documentary scrupulously examines the vast paper archives newly discovered and calls on eyewitnesses to lift this particular granitic elephant. The squalid moral self-blindness is forever laid bare as the grainy footage and the damning documents and the survivors point imperturbable fingers at the vast mass of those Germans, who can never again claim they “didn’t know,” or certainly “were not implicated” in the horror of the Holocaust. They did. And they were.


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