A Thunder Matt Movie Minute

September 28, 2007 | Comments (0) | by Chaim Witz

The Kingdom

"Unlike that other Jamie Foxx war movie that came out last year with a Kanye West song in the trailer, this Jamie Foxx war movie with a Kanye West song in the trailer is actually really good."

As has been chronicled, Chaim Witz is a big fan of The Kingdom. In an earlier post I said of this potential blockbuster, "You know the feeling you get on a roller coaster, where your genitalia starts to tingle? That's what this movie is like."

Color me shocked that the aforementioned quote didn't find it's way into the advertising, especially given my legendary stature in the world of (adult) film.

Surely you've born witness to the myriad of trailers that are playing for this one, but if for some reason you've been too busy getting 'black out drunk' in order to put these painful Cubs losses behind you, let me bring you up to speed, via a hastily composed synopsis. Dateline: Saudi Arabia. American compound gets breached by terrorists. As you can imagine, things don't go well. An FBI counter terrorism unit (don't worry...it's explained why the FBI is allowed over there...I'm not sure the explanation is valid, but it is explained) consisting of Jamie Foxx, Jennifer Garner, Chris Cooper and Jason Bateman (who knew?) is sent to investigate the attack. The crime is solved within minutes and rest of the film consists of a montage of Kanye West videos and You Tube footage of Jamie Foxx dancing, all capped off with the last half-hour of an old A-Team episode.

But really folks...The Kingdom has everything going for it. It's tense, funny and filled with smart dialogue and pants-pooping action scenes. It's got political subtext, but unlike a film like Syriana, your head doesn't hurt afterwords from trying to wrap your mind around it. Leave your cliffnotes at home for this one. If this were a book it would be Middle East for Dummies, and being a bit of a dummy myself, I say that with the utmost admiration. That's not to say that its a bunch of 'rah rah patriotism' though. It's a smart, well crafted thriller that is intelligent without being pretentious or condescending. A thinking man's popcorn movie if you will.

The last half hour or so of the movie is intense enough that if you were to bring a newborn baby into the theatre, it would literally explode. Or, coming full circle with my roller coaster reference, pregnant women and people with heart problems should not be allowed to ride this ride. Hi-Yo!

*I saw this one at a very early screening, months ago. I should have probably written the review then when my thoughts were fresh in my mind. Now, reading some early reviews of the film, it seems to be a mixed bag, which is surprising. It momentarily had me questioning how much I really liked it since it's been a while since I saw it. But then I realized, dammit, I don't need some 50 year-old pretentious wanker to validate my opinion. I'm going to see this again this weekend (working it around the Cubs games) and you should to.

Thunder Matt Rating: 4.5 Jamie Foxx/Kanye West collaborations out of 5

Into the Wild*

"Another light hearted romp from America's favorite funnyman, Sean Penn"

For those of you who don't know the story of Christopher McCandless, the story is one you've probably heard a million times. Boy that comes from money graduates top of his class in college, becomes disenchanted with the world around him, donates his $25,000 savings to charity, hitchhikes across the country and takes up refuge in a bus somewhere in the Alaskan wilderness. Ah, if I had a nickel for every time I heard that old yarn!

In 1996 Chris' life story became a best selling book and now, ten years later, the always affable Sean Penn brings his story to the big screen. Having never read the book (I can't read see) or so much as heard the story (ignorance is indeed bliss) I went into this with no preconceived notions of what it would be. I had a hunch that things would end badly for our antagonist, but beyond that I had no idea.

What it did have going for it before I even sat down was it's wilderness setting. I love me a good wilderness movie. If you set your movie in a forest, jungle, tangle, wasteland, bush, grassy knoll or any other wooded area, the battle is already halfway won. Case in point, because of the wilderness (or maybe it was Gary Busey), I liked the movie Surviving the Game. I've probably just lost all credibility with this review based on that statement and I won't blame you if you stop reading now.

Simply put, I liked Into the Wild. I wouldn't hesitate to recommend it to everyone. That said, I didn't love Into the Wild. As much as I wanted to love it and take it home with me and wrap it in swaddling clothes, I just couldn't. Don't get me wrong, there is plenty here to like. Emile Hirsch is great as Christopher. He infuses his character with confidence and likability, and his dramatic weight loss is the stuff Oscar nominations are made of. You've got nice little cameos by Vince Vaughn and my favorite bearded, pretentious comedian Zach Galifianakis, playing two ranch hands that hire Christopher and bestow upon him words of wisdom like "Don't go to Alaska" and "I'd bring a .22". The scenery is equally impressive and Penn does a great job of conveying not only the beauty of nature but it's power as well. Some of the shots are jaw dropping (feel free to substitute 'awe inspiring'), and there is a stark contrast when Chris leaves nature and goes back to the real world, which is cold and harsh in comparison.

Now you're probably thinking to yourself, "Sweet Ophelia, this sounds like a 6 star movie!" Well, not quite. As is the case with most movies that are 2 1/2 hours, this one could have some of the fat trimmed off. Penn can get a bit self indulgent at times and I imagine him in the editing room, arguing with one of the producers about the umpteenth 'tree shot'.

I also wish we could have gotten a little more in depth about Chris' motivations. The movie's setup lasts all of ten minutes and you don't really get a feel of why Chris would just up and leave. Sure, it's hinted that he's disenchanted with material goods and the prospect of becoming a corporate drone, but to just take off like that without telling anyone seems a bit extreme. Towards the end there is also some revelations that his home life wasn't exactly Leave It To Beaver, but I still would have liked a bit more expository information. I guess that is what the book is for though, right? Damn this whole illiteracy thing. (I am actually having a young Korean boy transcribe this review)

Overall this is still a solid film that is borderline worthy of a chest bump. A forearm shiver at least. It made me want to buy both the book it was based on as well as one of those 'Wilderness Survival Guides' that are usually found in other peoples bathrooms. Lord knows I've gone long enough in my life without knowing the proper way to skin a boar. I feel that, despite the fact that I live in Chicago, I may need that knowledge some day. Until then I guess I'll just have to use the knowledge I've gleaned from watching 'Survivor' and 'Lost'. Hmmm...I wouldn't last a day would I?

Thunder Matt Rating: 3 Sean Penn visits to Katrina out of 5

*For my longer, more comprehensive (see: rambling) review of Into the Wild check out what should be your second favorite blog, The Blog of Eternal Stench, found here. Even if you don't want to read my review, check out his blog anyway if for nothing else than to get his Stat Counter up.

Next Week: Chaim takes a ride on The Darjeeling Limited and proclaims it to be safer than Amtrak.