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View From the Couch

First Snow, The Kingdom, The Simpsons Movie and more



FIRST SNOW (2007). Building upon an impressive indie career, Guy Pearce (Memento, The Proposition) adds another prickly personality to his resume, further revealing that here's an actor who couldn't give a damn whether audiences warm up to his characters. He plays Jimmy, an unctuous salesman who visits a fortune teller (J.K. Simmons) off the side of a New Mexico highway. The palm reader's initial predictions come true, so Jimmy is understandably upset when it's revealed that he won't live long after the first snow falls. Gripped by paranoia, he begins to plan his life around the notion that he will soon die, even as he attempts to do everything in his power to prevent his imminent death. Writers Mark Fergus (also making his directorial debut) and Hawk Ostby both had a hand in the Oscar-nominated screenplay for Children of Men, so they clearly enjoy tackling weighty issues not usually explored in current thrillers. Here, they engage in a metaphysical debate concerning the ebb and flow between destiny and free will, and whether or not an individual's attempts to alter his life only end up limiting his choices even further. The stages of Jimmy's breakdown and rebirth are gripping thanks to Pearce's intense performance, and there are notable turns by Simmons (currently seen as the dad in Juno) as the somber psychic and William Fichtner (in a rare good-guy role) as Jimmy's skeptical business associate. The subdued ending might disappoint those hoping for a more lively denouement, but really, it seems just right for a tale as chilly as this one.

The only extras on the DVD are 10 trailers for other films.

Movie: ***

Extras: *1/2

INTERVIEW (2007). The true worth of Interview, a remake of a 2003 Dutch film by the late Theo van Gogh (murdered by a Muslim extremist in 2004), rests in its appeal as an actors' showcase. Take the screenplay, highlight a couple of the more emotionally volatile passages, include them in one of those books with titles like Scenes For Two Actors, and – voila! – instant gratification for theater majors on college campuses across the nation. Beyond its potential in print, however, there's very little that's memorable about the picture, which seeks to explore the strained relationship between the media and the celebrity set yet does so in a manner that's overreaching and unconvincing. Steve Buscemi (who also directed and co-wrote the adaptation with David Schechter) plays Pierre Peders, a political correspondent who's outraged that he's asked to do an interview with Katya (Sienna Miller), a B-movie actress and soap opera star known more for her off-screen exploits than her choice of roles. The pair immediately dislike each other, but as the night wears on, both begin to relax and open up to each other. Or do they? There's a measure of truth in the hostility that erupts between the journalist, who views his subject with contempt, and the star, who's angered when she feels that the line between expected media exposure and her right to privacy gets crossed. But despite fine performances by both leads, the film works better in concept than execution, with lapses in logic and a denouement that's not too hard to sniff out (not surprisingly, the picture sides with the celebrity more than the journalist). Even at a brief 84 minutes, you'll be glad when this Interview's over.

DVD extras include audio commentary by Buscemi, a discussion of Theo van Gogh and the original Interview, and a making-of featurette.

Movie: **

Extras: **1/2

THE KINGDOM (2007). Part of the recent glut of movies focusing on Middle East tensions, this is basically a Rambo retread outfitted with a thin veneer of topical import. Director Peter Berg appears to be an American apologist at heart, which may explain why, after a fascinating title sequence illustrating the United States' complicated ties to Saudi Arabia (and, of course, its riches), the movie quickly devolves into a standard us-against-them revenge flick. The film opens with a shocking sequence in which a base for American families in Riyadh, Saudi Arabia, is destroyed by terrorists, thereby prompting a group of elite FBI agents to undergo a secret mission to find the culprits once the Saudi and U.S. governments both balk at creating an international incident. The four agents (Jamie Foxx, Chris Cooper, Jennifer Garner and Jason Bateman) are devoid of much in the way of personality, but that's OK: Their only purpose in this story is to kill Middle Easterners. Lots of them. The message of this 110-minute movie is revealed in its very last line, meaning it arrives about 100 minutes too late. Because of this lack of clear intent, the picture has no choice except to work as a visual and aural assault on our senses: It's a cathartic palate cleanser that allows us to watch bad guys plowed down without sullying our own hands. There's a sympathetic Saudi officer (Ashraf Barhoum, very good) who, by providing the few moments of warmth, might diffuse arguments that Berg's movie isn't antiterrorist but anti-Middle East – a huge difference, for those who didn't realize.

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