September 2007

Dueling Reviews – The Kingdom

by Alan Rapp on September 28, 2007

in Movie Reviews 

Director Peter Berg is responsible for Friday Night Lights and The Rundown.  He’s also responsible for 1998’s cruelty to film, Very Bad Things.  His latest takes his star cast to the deserts of Saudi Arabia to investigate a crime and bring terrorists to justice.  How does it stack up?  Take a look-see in the Full Diagnosis as Aaron and I square off to debate the merits of The Kingdom

The Kingdom
Custom Rating

After a well-planned series of attacks and a brutal bombing of an American facility in Riyadh leaves countless dead Special Agent Ronald Fleury (Jamie Foxx) blackmails his way into the country to give his team a chance to investigate the crime and find some measure of justice.

Fluery’s team consists of the old Southern guy (Chris Cooper), the comedy relief (Jason Bateman), and the tough, but sensitive, chick (Jennifer Garner) whose inclusion on the mission creates all kinds of cultural problems.  (Two things the movie doesn’t have a problem with – simplicity and cliche).

On arriving they are assigned a liasion (Ashraf Barhom) who treats them more as tourists than investigators and has his own trouble handling the delicate situation between the local police and military.  The FBI team fights for the right to do what they were sent to do, earn the respect of the locals (in that crazy buddy-cop Hollywood movie way) and soon become the next targets for the terrorists.

Alan’s take:

Let’s start of with what works.  The film does a decent job of showcasing the chaos of terrorist bombings, action scenes, and their aftermath.  We are pushed into these events with the characters, not knowing exactly what is going on or where the next attack might come from.

The acting, though not high quality, is decent and we get what we expect from Foxx, Cooper and Garner, and Bateman shows up to play the tension-relieving Steve Zahn-like comic relief.

What doesn’t work?  In an attempt to tell a complex story with geo-political ramifications and centuries of hatred and distrust the film relies too heavily on simple answers and easy choices.  There are no ramifications for the characters’ actions, even when such would be demanded by both law and common sense.  Nor do we ever feel the outcome of the team is in any doubt or their lives are at risk, even when they are put in mortal danger.

I also have to note the insanely bad taste to include an animated plane hitting the Twin Towers in the opening sequence which is meant to explain the history and the current situation between the United States and Saudi Arabia.  Although the film recovers from this early blunder I can’t imagine who thought it was a good idea.

Aaron’s take:

If there’s one thing I’ve learned about Hollywood, it’s that the place is exceptionally ill-equipped to comment on big issues. Subtlety and nuance are simply too words that the major studios have never bothered to look up, let alone implement. Peter Berg certainly could use a primer if The Kingdom is any indication.

6 years into our Global War on Terror and it’s just now that Hollywood has decided to take on the concept of terrorism in any meaningful way (excepting the amazing Syriana, of course), but if this police procedural masked as political commentary is the kind of thing we can expect from a newly world-conscious Hollywood, I’d say it’s long past time for a remedial course in global politics.

Leaving aside the laughably insufficient primer on American-Saudi relations that runs over the credits, this film manages to brush up against a really informed and interesting film at least a dozen times over the course of its running time. Sadly, Berg never once seizes the opportunity and instead audiences can expect a big budget Law & Order that just happens to take place in Saudi Arabia. Albeit a L&O that places a lot less emphasis on accurately portraying how Federal Agents might actually act.

Alan’s final word – As misguided as the film is at times, and as insane as the constant shaky-handy-cam made me get, I must admit that the film was slightly better than I expected (though since I expected a spectacular train wreck that’s no saying much).  I wouldn’t go quite far enough to recommend the film, but I think there are people who will enjoy it for what it is – a mixed bag with its moments, both good and bad.

Aaron’s final word – Miscast, misconstrued, and woefully mistaken on the kind of dialogue we should be having about the roots of terrorism (not to mention what we should do about it), the Kingdom is pretty much Syriana for people who find Battlestar Galactica too confusing.


by Alan Rapp on September 28, 2007

in Movie Reviews 

Sex trafficking of children is quite a controversial topic to make a film about.  Let’s face it, this isn’t family night at the movie material here.  Powerful and disturbing the film takes us on a seedy journey from Mexico to New Jersey and into the lives of the kidnappers and terrified and brutalized young women.

3 & 1/2 Stars

Inspired by the New York Times Magazine cover story “The Girls Next Door” by Peter Landesman, the film follows the process of kidnapping, torture, transport, sexual abuse, and selling of young girls for profit.

flesh for sale

The film begins with the kidnapping of Adriana (Paulina Gaitan), a 13 year-old girl from Mexico, and Veronica (Alicja Bacheleda-Curus), a young woman from the Baltic States.  They are taken by force to an unknown location and then put in the pipeline to be sold with others as sex slaves.  We watch their journey from Mexico, into the United States, and to New Jersey where they will be sold.

The other part of the story concerns American cop Ray (Kevin Kline) and Adriana’s brother Jorge (Cesar Ramos) who team-up to try and rescue his sister.

The film is full of disturbing scenes including the brutal rape of Veronica and highly suggestive scenes involving Adriana and girls and boys her age performing sex acts on the side of the road for money.  There are also scenes in which the girls are forced to change and pose provocatively for the camera, forcibly drugged, and beaten.  I honestly don’t know how this film avoided an NC-17 rating, which it justly deserves; it’s certainly not a film for the squeamish.

The performances are all good with Bechleda-Curus and Gaitan being the best of the bunch.  Both are strong and Gaitan is a terrific young actress who is asked to do some seriously adult work here.  I hope she stays with this acting thing because she is someone to watch.  Ramos also does a good job in reacting to a situation that spins his entire reality out of control.  It’s through his eyes initially where we feel the first real terror and urgency of each moment.

The men who kidnap and hold them (Zack Ward, Marco Perez, Pavel Lychnik) are also worth noting, although at times the film turns them comes dangerously close to turning their characters into cliches, from Maneulo’s odd behavior shifts to the the total wickedness of the other two.  Kate Del Castillo has a role of a woman involved in the operation who is so evil and screwed-up she might as well be wearing a pointy hat and riding a broomstick.

The film also has some trouble in its storytelling.  Late in the film there appears to be an entire sequence of shots and scenes missing dealing with the other girls in the party.  There’s also Maneulo’s (Perez) odd choices and behavior changes, and an all too happy Hollywood ending.  Also worth noting is the artistic juxtaposition the director uses during scenes of high tension and violence which come off strange at best.  For example during the violent shots of Veronica’s rape we are also shown images and memories of her young child.  Although this was probably meant to add to the drama and lessen the brutality of the scene it comes off more than a little creepy and confusing instead.

It’s far from perfect, but the film has a tension that works, even through some of the more unbelievable aspects and odd plot twists, and it’s a subject that is worth recognizing and discussing.  It may not be what you want to see at the movies, but it’s not something you can not ignore either.  I had a very mixed reaction to the film as I can admit to the workmanship of the material, but also feel a bit dirty by just viewing what, at times, becomes a self-indulgent voyeuristic seedy journey, which tries a bit too hard to tack on a happy ending.  This is a film where one should leave depressed, heart-broken and mad as hell, but it does not have quite enough bravery, in the end, to go to the the necessary lengths to drive its point home.  Given the disturbing images and situations the film puts the audience through early in the film, when it never capitalizes on them, it feels like a cop-out which leaves the audience with the wrong message.

When Man Walked on the Moon

by Alan Rapp on September 27, 2007

in Movie Reviews 

Back in the 1960’s and early 1970’s America reached for the stars.  This new documentary looks at the experiences through the eyes of the surviving nine Apollo astronauts and tries to put this time of dreams, when men flew between the stars and stood on the moon, into a historical perspective.

In the Shadow of the Moon
4 Stars

“There are some men who lift the age they inhabit, ‘til all men walk on higher ground in that lifetime.”
—Maxwell Adams

In 1961 President John F. Kennedy presented a goal and challenge for the United States to land men on the face of the moon before the end of the decade.  This speech led to the creation of the Apollo program and their missions to the moon.

This new documentary from director David Sington and producer Ron Howard takes us back to the early days through the words and experiences of the surviving Apollo astronauts including Buzz Aldrin, Alan Bean, Michael Collins, Jim Lovell, and Neil Armstrong (though in Armstrong’s case, only through archival footage).

With human ingenuity and hard work these men traveled through space and many of them stepped foot on the moon.  It was a time of magic and pushing the limits of all that was possible.

The film focuses mainly on the Apollo 11 mission, but also incorporates events from other space missions, including the near disaster of Apollo 13, into a well-managed format discussing training, lift-off, moon landing, return and life afterwards, with all the astronauts.

It’s nice to get to know these men of legend and see them reminisce about an adventure they can only truly share with each other.  Their stories are fascinating and each gives their own take on their experiences; Michael Collins is especially entertaining.  A final note for those of you who can find this film playing at a theater near you.  Stay through the credits and listen to the astronauts as they debunk the crazy Apollo hoax allegations.  It’s almost worth the price of admission alone.


Sure there’s a little too much condensed into a single film, but they get the message and the spirit right; casual observers can take this film as a starting point to learn more about one of the most interesting eras in our nation’s history.  What most moved me about the film was the profound impact of the moon landings and space flight on each of these men and their understanding and respect for our world.  As the film points out, no man has walked on the moon (or any other heavenly body) since 1972.  Once we were strong, smart, and bold enough to travel among the stars.  We could use a little more of that today.  For more on the Apollo missions check out these sites here and here.

Take a peek at this uber-condensed version of the first season of Shotime’s hit series Dexter.  Season Two of cable’s coolest serial killer/forensic specialist, as we told you in the latest Fall Preview, is set to kick-off Sunday night at 9:00/8:00 (Eastern/Central).  Check out the larger version in the Full Diagnosis.


Our Tube Watch Falll Preview continues with another week on returns – Dexter, Ugly Betty, My Name is Earl, Smallville, Gray’s Anatomy, The Office, ER, Desperate Housewives, The Game and more.  All that plus new shows including Pushing Daisies, Aliens in America, Moonlight, and Big Shots.  Check out the entire Week Four Preview in the Full Diagnosis.




Ugly Betty I’ve never seen this critically acclaimed show (it pulled in Emmy’s and Golden Globes for comedy series and its lead actress) about a sweet and quirky girl (America Ferrera) who works around beautiful people at a high-fashion magazine.  Maybe I’ll give it a look-see as it begins its Second Season tonight.  The show airs Thursday nights at 8:00/7:00 on ABC.

My Name is Earl Jason Lee, Jaime Pressly and Ethan Suplee return for a Third Season on hijinx and misadventure.  The show airs Thursday nights at 8:00/7:00 on NBC.

Smallville Has this show really been on for six seasons?  The 7th Season promises the appearance of Clark’s cousin Kara (AKA Supergirl), Bizarro, and more Justice League.  The show airs Thursday nights at 8:00/7:00 on the CW.

Grey’s Anatomy The doctors return, minus Kate Walsh who has moved on to her own show, for a Fourth Season.  The show airs Thursday night at 9:00/8:00 on ABC.

CSI The 8th Season begins with the search for Sara (Jorja Fox) who was kidnapped by the Miniature Killer.  The show airs Thursday nights at 9:00/8:00 on CBS.

The Office Steve Carrell, fresh off his summer disaster of biblical proportions, returns for a Fourth Season.  The show airs Thursday nights at 9:00/8:00 on NBC.

Big Shots The new comedy stars Michael Vartan, Dylan McDermott, Christopher Titus and Joshua Malina as four friends and successful corporate execs balancing friendship, business, and marriage.  The show airs Thursday nights at 10:00/9:00 on ABC.

Without a Trace The folks at the Missing Persons Squad return for a 6th Season.  The show airs Thursday nights at 10:00/9:00 on CBS.

ER This is still on the air?  Who knew!  The show returns for its 14th Season and begins counting down to its 300th episode which should air, after the holiday hiatus, next Spring.  The show airs Thursday nights at 10:00/9:00 on NBC.

Ghost Whisperer Jennifer Love Hewitt continues to see dead people as the series moves into its Third Season.  The show airs Friday nights at 8:00/7:00 on CBS.

Moonlight The new show stars as a good guy vampire (Alex O’Loughlin) turned private detective in Los Angeles (hey, haven’t we seen this show before??). Shannyn Sossman and Sophia Myles also star.  The show airs Friday nights at 9:00/8:00 on CBS.

Las Vegas Here’s another show I’ve wondered about but never found the time to sit down and watch.  The folks at the Montecito Resort & Casino return for a Fifth Season.  The show airs Friday nights at 10:00/9:00 on NBC.

Numb3rs The FBI solve more crimes with mathamatics as the show returns for its Fourth Season.  The show airs Friday nights at 10:00 on CBS.

Extreme Makeover: Home Edition The only “reality” show with any reality returns for a Fifth Season.  The show airs Sunday nights at 8:00/7:00 on ABC.

Desperate Housewives The women of Wisteria Lane return for a Fourth Season with new cast member Dana Delany.  The show airs Sunday nights at 9:00/8:00 on ABC

Dexter Showtime’s deliciously wicked drama of a forensic expert who is also a vigilante serial killer returns for a Second Season.  Up first, Dexter (Michael C. Hall) deals with the fallout from the death of his brother, Doakes’ suspicions, and the discovery of his body dump by the FBI.  The show airs Sunday nights at 9:00/8:00 on Showtime.

Brothers & Sisters The Walker family returns for a Second Season.  The show airs Sunday nights at 10:00/9:00 on ABC.

Brotherhood The residents of “The Hill” return for a Second Season.  The show airs Sunday nights at 10:00/9:00 on Showtime.

Everybody Hates Chris This comedy, loosely inspired on Chris Rock‘s childhood experiences, returns for a Third Season.  The show airs Monday nights at 8:00/7:00 on the CW.

Aliens in America The new sitcom focuses on a Wisconsin family who hosts a teenage foreign exchange student from Pakistan (Adhir Kalyan).  Scott Patterson, Dan Byrd, Lindsey Shaw, Amy Pietz, and Amber Borycki star.  The show airs Monday nights at 8:30/7:30 on the CW.

Girlfriends The ladies return for an 8th Season.  The show airs Monday nights at 9:00/8:00 on the CW.

The Game Brittany Daniel and the rest return for a Second Season.  The show airs Monday nights at 9:30/8:30 on the CW.

Cavemen An entire series based on a commercial?  That’s the idea behind this new sitcom revolving around the Cavemen characters from the Geiko ads.  Bill English, Nick Kroll, Sam Huntington, Kaitlin Doubleday, Stephanie Lemelin, and Julie White star.  The show airs Tuesday nights at 8:00/7:00 on ABC.

Carpoolers Four friends share their stories on their way to work.  And they made an entire series out of this?  Okay….  Fred Goss, Jerry O’Connell, Jerry Minor, Tim Pepper, Allison Munn, and Faith Ford star.  The show airs Tuesday nights at 8:30/7:30 on ABC.

Pushing Daisies The new show centers around a man who has the power to bring the dead back to life – for one-minute.  Putting his unique gift to work Ned (Lee Pace) stars his own detective agency with the help of a local investigator (Chi McBride).  Anna Friel, Kristin Chenoweth, and Jim Dale also star.  The show airs Wednesday nights at 8:00/7:00 on ABC.

Deal or No Deal Howie Mandel, the banker, and the briefcase models return for another season.  The show airs Wednesday nights at 8:00/7:00 on NBC.

*all times Eastern/Central