Friday movie roundup – Sept. 21

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There’s a metric shload of new movies this weekend, and three of them are excellent and thought-provoking. How often is even ONE movie in a weekend excellent and thought-provoking, let alone three?

“In the Valley of Elah” stars Tommy Lee Jones as a retired military man investigating the disappearance of his son, an Army soldier just back from a tour of duty in Iraq. You might think it is an anti-war film, especially when you learn that Susan Sarandon plays Jones’ wife, but that is not the case. Or, rather, it is anti-war, but it’s opposed to wars in general, to how they destroy lives and change the young men who have to fight them. The film makes no statement about the current war one way or the other. It’s an extraordinarily well-acted film, and a stirringly patriotic one too, in its way.

I also highly recommend “Eastern Promises,” directed by David Cronenberg and starring Viggo Mortensen as a man working his way up in the Russian mob. Great crime film, and an examination of the code of ethics among gangsters. The scene everyone will be talking about is the one where Mortensen has a fight with two hitmen while he’s in a bathhouse, completely naked. It’s a knock-down, drag-out fight, too. Cronenberg once made a film called “The Naked Lunch,” and so I kept trying to make a joke about “Eastern Promises” being called “The Naked Punch.” (Get it? Because he’s naked, and he’s fighting!) But nobody thought that was funny. So then I realized the perfect alternate title for it: “Balls of Fury.” Thank you!

Finally (among the great films, anyway), there’s “The Hunting Party,” an absurd but true story about three journalists who on a whim set out to find a notorious Bosnian war criminal — and in two days of looking got closer to capturing him than the U.N. had done in five years of “trying.” Richard Gere and Terrence Howard star. Lots of fun.

This week’s “In the Dark” also makes mention of “2 Days in Paris” (non!) and “Moliere” (oui!).

The three big, fat, wide releases this weekend are all lousy: “Good Luck Chuck” (my review for the week), “Sydney White,” and “Resident Evil: Extinction.” “Chuck” and “Resident Evil” will probably cancel each other out, since they seem to be targeting the same audience, i.e., 20-year-old meatheads. But we’ll see. “Resident Evil” wasn’t screened until last night, and even then the press weren’t invited. Some of us showed up anyway, though, and we weren’t denied access. Maybe the studio really did want us to see it and our invitations were lost in the mail???