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Welcome Back, Cronenberg

Ultra-violent 'Eastern Promises' leads the pack




Opening Friday, Sept. 14, The Kingdom is about an F.B.I. team that investigates an act of terrorism in Saudi Arabia. See review below.

Written and directed by Paul Haggis ( Crash ), In the Valley of Elah stars Tommy Lee Jones as a career officer and Susan Sarandon as his wife. They try to find out why their son disappeared after returning from Iraq, aided by a police officer played by Charlize Theron. The film has garnered very positive reviews, and what a great cast. Rated R for violent and disturbing content, language and some sexuality/nudity. 134 m. At the Broadway.

Based on the novel by Charles Baxter about the mysteries of love, Feast of Love explores the topic among a group of friends in Portland, Ore. Directed by Robert Benton ( The Human Stain and screenwriter for Bonnie and Clyde ), the film has an interesting cast, including Morgan Freeman, Greg Kinnear, Radha Mitchell and Selma Blair. Rated R for strong sexual content, nudity and language. 112 m. At the Broadway.

Have you missed The Rock? Then you’re in luck, as he stars in the comedy The Game Plan as a big time QB who discovers, inopportunely, that he has a 7-year-old daughter he didn’t know about. Where are these scripts coming from — is there a screenwriter’s strike going on? Rated PG for some mild thematic elements. 109 m. At the Broadway, Mill Creek and Fortuna.

Speaking of love, or at least desire, French director Pascale Ferran adapts a less well-known version of D.H. Lawrence’s famous novel with Lady Chatterley , a film that won five César awards in France. Lady Chatterley is portrayed by Marina Hands ( The Barbarian Invasions ; Tell No One ). Not rated, but the film contains sex and nudity. 178 m. At the Minor.

The low-budget disaster film Right At Your Door , a first feature from Chris Gorak, is about a dirty bomb set off in Los Angeles, leaving residents to face a toxic atmosphere. Pass the duct tape. The film was nominated for the Grand Jury Prize at the 2006 Sundance Festival. Rated R for pervasive language and some disturbing violent content. 106 m. At the Minor.

Launching the Gay Pride weekend in Arcata, Trained in the Ways of Men , a documentary about the murder of transgender teen Gwen Araujo, will screen at the Minor on Saturday, Sept. 29 at 10 a.m. The running time is 98 minutes.

The Based on the Book series kicks off again in October with “Watching the Detectives.” Opening the series is the 1934 classic The Thin Man , starring William Powell and Myrna Loy as Nick and Nora Charles along with their dog Asta. Bob Doran of the Journal will introduce the film and lead a discussion. The program begins promptly at 6:30 p.m., Tuesday, Oct. 2, at the Eureka Main Library.


EASTERN PROMISES: As Eastern Promises opens, the camera looks dispassionately at a scene in a barbershop in London. The customer in the chair chats with the barber about nothing in particular. But as this is a David Cronenberg film, the viewer waits for the inevitable eruption of violence, perhaps reminded of the similarly quiet but eerie beginning at a motel in A History of Violence .

Clearly Cronenberg, who also made the film Crash (about a couple who can only get it off sexually when involved in a car crash), has made the examination of violence in both individuals and society at large his primary film canvas. While Eastern Promises did not hold the visceral appeal for me that History did, the film does continually surprise and, as in the earlier film, the editing, camera work, composition and very deliberate pace serve to distance viewers while the acting draws them in.

These twin forces are what make Cronenberg stand out; his films fascinate even as the actions depicted on the screen often repulse. The world depicted here involves expatriate Russian mobsters, a world that Anna (Naomi Watts), a midwife at a London hospital who happens to have a Russian father, becomes inadvertently involved with.

The main narrative follows the strange relationship between Anna and Nikolai (Viggo Mortensen), a chauffeur for Russian mob boss Semyon (Armin Mueller-Stahl) and guardian of his unpredictable, quick-tempered son Kirill (Vincent Cassel).

The themes in the film also touch on family loyalty and social instability. All the acting is solid, but Mortensen and Watts are standouts; they hold the film together whenever it threatens to spin out of control. You won’t see any better performances this year. With the obvious caveat about violence, I highly recommend this film. Rated R for strong brutal and bloody violence, some graphic sexuality, language and nudity. 110 m. At the Broadway.

GOOD LUCK CHUCK: Okay, I can’t call Good Luck Chuck a brain-dead guy film since there were more women than men at the screening of the film that I attended. Furthermore, my partner just fell asleep this time instead of walking out. I guess those breasts just didn’t do it for her.

The film does cry out for a review along the lines of “drive-in movie (remember those?) critic” Joe Bob Briggs’, delineating the number of bare breast (an odd number in this film given the anatomical nature of one of the women), penguin fu and an AA nomination to Jessica Alba for attempted acting.

The bottom line, though, is that Good Luck Chuck is an excessively silly film that totally wastes its promising premise. The “humor” in the film (all right, a chuckle forced its way past my lips a few times) develops from this premise: Due to a childhood curse, every woman Charlie (Dane Cook) sleeps with is destined to find her soul mate in the next guy she meets, a fate that does wonders for Charlie’s sex life after it’s posted on the Internet. But what happens when Charlie actually falls in love? This complication comprises the film’s plot after Charlie meets the clumsy, penguin-loving Cam (Jessica Alba).

This could have led to a clever film; instead, as developed here, it just produced an incredibly stupid, uninventive film. For those who may have wondered how to pleasure a penguin, though, the film may have a salutary lesson. Others may wish to rent The Wedding Crashers to see how this sort of thing is handled competently. Rated R for sequences of strong sexual content including crude dialogue, nudity, language and some drug use. 106 m. At the Broadway and Mill Creek.

RESIDENT EVIL: EXTINCTION: Based on the number of people at the screening I attended, this third film in a series, not screened for critics, is the likely weekend box office winner.

When we last saw series protagonist Alice (Milla Jovovich) in 2004’s Resident Evil: Apocalypse , she had achieved super powers due to an experiment performed on her by the Umbrella Corporation in an attempt to counteract the virus that has turned most humans into undead, thanks to a mistake by Umbrella itself.

Having escaped from Umbrella and its killer creature, Nemesis, Extinction opens as Alice is riding a motorcycle through a landscape that is reminiscent of the post-apocalyptic one in The Road Warrior . Small pockets of actual humans still survive, barely, in the midst of the undead (now including infected crows that appear in a scene reminiscent of Hitchcock’s The Birds ). Alice dreams of finding a haven where the virus has not spread, but evil Umbrella scientist Dr. Isaacs (Iain Glen, Kingdom of Heaven ) is after Alice so he can use her blood for an antidote.

Ali Larter from the TV series Heroes has a nice turn as one of the survivors who teams up with Alice, and Ashanti puts in an appearance as another survivor who comes to a grisly end. Extinction proceeds just as you’d expect from the previous two Resident Evil films, but Ukrainian model turned actress Jovovich is a lot more fun to watch than Alba. Rated R for strong horror violence throughout and some nudity. 104 m. At the Broadway and Mill Creek.

THE KINGDOM: Thanks to a sneak preview on Sept. 15, I am able to review The Kingdom before it opens its regular local run. While the film deals with the continuing topic of the day — terrorism — it puts a somewhat different twist on the topic by setting the film in Saudi Arabia, one of our putative allies, and by involving an FBI team in the investigation of a terrorist act.

When a supposedly secure American compound near Riyadh, Saudi Arabia is bombed, an FBI team consisting of Ronald Fleury (Jamie Foxx), Janet Mayes (Jennifer Garner) and Grant Sykes (Chris Cooper) manages to fly to Riyadh despite resistance from both our State Department and the Saudis. Upon arrival, they are assigned to an unhappy Col. Al-Ghazi (Ashraf Barhom, Paradise Now ).

While the main plot has to do with the pursuit of those responsible for the bombing, the film is just as interested in the uneasy relationship between the Americans and the Saudis, and in global politics. Not surprisingly, the pursuit receives most of the film’s attention, while the politics becomes a sidebar. Director Peter Berg effectively structures the story, though, and the acting is very good all around.

It is unfortunate that the Saudis are not, with a few notable exceptions, individualized very well; they often seem simply targets for revenge. I can’t imagine that authorities in the country will be very happy about how Saudi Arabia is depicted, but it’s equally clear that the filmmakers don’t care. At the end of the day, the only good terrorist is a dead one. Rated R for intense sequences of graphic brutal violence, and for language. 120 m. At the Broadway, Mill Creek and Fortuna.


3:10 TO YUMA: Remake of the 1957 Western that made “ yuma ” universal Cuban slang for “America.” Stars R. Crowe, C. Bale. Rated R. 117 m. At the Broadway, Mill Creek and Fortuna.

BALLS OF FURY. Decrepit ping-pong champ recruited by FBI. Rated PG-13. 90 m. At The Movies, Mill Creek and the Fortuna.

THE BOURNE ULTIMATUM. Jason Bourne (M. Damon) returns to America to seek out the baddies who scrambled his brain. Rated PG-13. 113 m. At The Movies and Mill Creek.

THE BRAVE ONE. J. Foster prowls the streets of NYC, looking to pay back the murderers of her fiancé. N. Jordan directs. Rated R. 122 m. At the Broadway, Mill Creek and Fortuna.

DEATH AT A FUNERAL: British comedy of errors. “Uproarious!” “Irreverent!” “Riotous!” “Ebullient!” Rated R. 91 m. At the Minor.

DRAGON WARS: Korean kaiju set in L.A., with a touch of Highlander to complement the marauding monsters. Rated PG-13. 89 m. At the Broadway, Mill Creek and Fortuna.

HARRY POTTER AND THE ORDER OF THE PHOENIX: In round five of the series, Harry and the gang buck government orders and found their own secret society. Rated PG-13. 148 m. At The Movies.

SHOOT ’EM UP: Remarkably, they managed to make a bad movie starring both C. Owen and P. Giamatti. This one’s in the bullets and hit-men genre. Rated R. 86 m. At The Movies.

STARDUST: Young man travels to a magical word, seeking a fallen star that will capture the heart of his true love. With C. Danes, M. Pfeiffer, R. De Niro. Rated PG-13. At The Movies.

SUPERBAD. Two awkward teen boys — one crude, one shy — set out to excise their boyhood in one night of partying. Rated R. 113 m. At the Broadway, Minor and Mill Creek.

SYDNEY WHITE. In retelling of Snow White , sparky college girl is cast out of her sorority; takes up with the Seven Dorks. Rated PG-13. 108 m. At the Broadway.

TRANSFORMERS: A poignant ode to ’80s-era Saturday morning cartoons. Also, a bunch of shapeshifting robots blow each other up. Rated PG-13. 154 m. At The Movies.

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