Notes from the back row 

Cronenberg steps it up again

Masterful Canadian filmmaker David Cronenberg ( The Fly, Dead Ringers,A History of Violence) has a new flick out this week — the broodingly awesome crime thriller Eastern Promises . Cronenberg once again teams up with actor Viggo Mortenson and together they deliver a twisted morality tale that’s a little bit like The Godfather only with bad-ass Russian gangsters.

Eastern Promises, essentially a Christmas movie and set in London, begins with a pair of deaths and a birth. The first death, a brutal barbershop throat slitting scene grabs our attention and the second, that of a 14-year-old whore who dies during childbirth, fuels the rest of the film.

Naomi Watts ( King Kong) plays the midwife who delivers the young girl’s baby. She steals a diary, written in Russian, in hopes of finding the child’s remaining living relatives. This leads her to a restaurant, an old man, and smack into the middle of the Russian mob. Led by the kind old restaurateur, the Russian mob is certainly nothing to take lightly.

Mortenson plays Nikolai, the family driver/mortician/ass-kicker who, along with Vincent Cassel (playing the boss’s psychotic, vodka-swilling son) are charged with retrieving the diary, which is incriminating, and “fixing” the problem. Of course, he’s got an agenda of his own and the entire film has that uneasy sense of betrayal and violence bubbling just under the surface.

Although Eastern Promises might seem to be very much a “genre picture” Cronenberg is still able to twist and play with the idea of “what is normal” and the codes of masculinity while also pushing the envelope visually. His cunnilingus-laced love scenes in A History of Violence were considered very risque and he steps it up again with an incredible fight sequence between Mortenson and two knife-wielding thugs in a bathhouse. The violence here is totally brutal, realistic, cinematic and very balls-to-the-wall.

Sticking with balls, Jessica Alba, touted by some as the hottest thing going these days, has a new flick dropping Friday. It’s called Good Luck Chuck and it licks balls. Dane Cook co-stars as a dude who was cursed at age 10 after refusing to kiss the goth girl in a game of spin the bottle. Now, all grown up, his curse remains and he’s considered a good luck charm for women seeking husbands — they screw him and the next guy they meet is a keeper. Alba plays the girl he’d like to keep for himself.

This “story” has potential but Alba and Cook are both pretty poor actors and the script is juvenile. Fart jokes, funny words for sex, and other seen-it-all-before drivel. Even Alba’s hotness can’t save this crapfest.

Milla Jovovich’s hotness, on the other hand, is just one of the things that makes Resident Evil: Extinction pretty killer. Granted this is the third film in a series based on a video game so things like plot and characterization are understandably a bit lacking, but instead we get a tougher, meaner, genetically engineered Alice (Jovovich) out in the desert fighting off hordes of zombies. Although they’re really hunting Alice down, the UmbrellaCorp no longer wants to destroy the zombies (they accidentally unleashed the virus back in part 1). Now they want to control them and use them as slaves — a nifty anti-corporate sentiment that echoes the social subtext of the zombie flicks of old.

Extinction watches somewhat like Dawn of the Dead meets Mad Max Road Warrior with lots of epic wide shots and zombie chaos. Jovovich, still doing many of her own stunts, is as great as ever and, for a video game flick, Resident Evil: Extinction is actually pretty kick-ass if you’re into things like tight-fitting suits, brain-eating and killer crows.

AT VILLAGE 8 Sept. 21-27: Eastern Promises; Good Luck Chuck; Resident Evil: Extinction; The Brave One; Mr. Woodcock; 3:10 to Yuma; Bourne Ultimatum; Superbad.

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