SAVAGES (2012)

July 12, 2012

 Greetings again from the darkness. I guess this qualifies as director Oliver Stone returning to his dark side. Based on Don Winslow‘s novel, it certainly has the foundation to be a complex, down-and-dirty, twisted plot, double-crossing, love triangle, ultra-violent, drug-dealing smörgåsbord. And while it possesses all of those elements, it still manages to come across as some slick Michael Mann cable TV project.

The film begins with narration from O (Blake Lively) who tells us that just because she is telling us this story, doesn’t mean she is alive at the end. Huh?? She also tells us that she is love with two drug-dealing buddies. Yes, both of them. Chon (Taylor Kitsch, John Carter) is the ex-Seal and muscle in the business. Ben (Aaron Johnson, Kick-Ass) is the gifted botanist who turns the magic Afghan seeds into the most potent pot in southern California. Oh, and Ben is also the ultimate philanthropist drug dealer. He builds schools in third world countries and invests in clean energy. After what felt like an eternity, the narration finally ended and I could stop yelling “Shut up, O” at the screen.

One day the boys receive a video via email. It’s an invitation to a business meeting with the Mexican Baja Drug cartel. Suffice to say that the video contained no balloons or party animals. It was more of a visual warning about what happens if you choose not to do business with them. The cartel front men are played by Demian Bichir (fresh off A Better Life) and Benecio Del Toro (MIA since The Wolfman). The queen of the cartel is Elena, played by Salma Hayak. Throw in a corrupt DEA agent, playing both sides against each other, portrayed by John Travolta, and all the pieces are in place for real fireworks once O is kidnapped (it’s in the trailer).

The rest of the movie is pretty much the war you would expect with some poor negotiation skills, torture and back-stabbing tossed in for fun. Overacting is the word of the day, especially from Travolta, Ms. Hayak and Emile Hirsch (money man). Still not sure what to make of Ms. Lively (The Town). The camera certainly loves her but it’s too early to tell if she has staying power as an actress. The only character that is really fun to watch is Lado, played by Del Toro. He is truly a frightening guy who also happens to have a deceptive mind on how to take over from the weak.

The whole good versus evil story line really only works if one side is good and one side is evil. If the good side (Ben) is a drug-dealer in a love triangle with his best friend, it’s much more difficult to muster empathy. Otherwise, when the necessary hostage/money exchanges occur, we really aren’t invested in the characters … and the action takes center stage. That’s the sign of a forgettable movie with no real heart.

SEE THIS MOVIE IF: you want to see beautiful people playing drug dealers OR you want to see Benecio Del Toro at his sleazy best

SKIP THIS MOVIE IF: you are expecting a gritty, down and dirty drug dealing drama with the political extremism we have come to expect from director Oliver Stone

watch the trailer:

 


ALBERT NOBBS

January 30, 2012

 Greetings again from the darkness. We are accustomed to movies with men posing as women for comedic effect … Mrs. Doubtfire and Tootsie come to mind. Watching an extremely serious, even bleak, film with a woman (Glenn Close) posing as a man is quite rare, and I will say, downright uncomfortable. When Albert Nobbs is described by his co-workers as a strange little man, they have no idea!

The film is based on a novella by George Moore, and has been a pet project of Glenn Close since she starred in the off-Broadway play in the 1980’s. Her dream has been realized in this film directed by Rodrigo Garcia. The film has an extremely talented cast including Brendan Gleeson as a doctor, Bronagh Gallagher as Mrs Page, Mia Wasikowska, Aaron Johnson and Brenda Fricker as hotel staff, Pauline Collins as the hotel proprietor, and Jonathan Rhys Meyers as a frequent hotel guest.  The song over the closing credits (co-written by Ms. Close) is sung by Sinead O’Connor.

Beyond that fabulous cast, the only thing that really makes the film worth watching is the curious performance of Ms. Close as Albert Nobbs and the much more colorful and lively turn by Janet McTeer as Mr. Page … the only one (we know of) who can understand what Albert is going through. Both are nominated for Oscars. During the film, we get the personal story from each of these characters on why they made their choice, but Albert’s story is a bit muddled. He/she seems to have just fallen into the life and been unable to stop for the past 30 years. Now, Albert has a dream that can only be achieved through the wages earned as the non-descript, efficient waiter in an 1890’s Dublin hotel.

 There are many painful scenes to watch, but none moreso than Albert courting Helen so that he can have a partner for his new business. He has no idea how a real relationship works or why people are attracted to each other. Albert just sees Helen as a means to an end, and is following the blueprint set by Mr. Page.  Some will enjoy this much more than I, as the thought of pretending to be someone you aren’t for 3 decades is just more than I can even comprehend. When Gleeson’s doctor spouts that he has no reason why people choose to lead such miserable lives, I concur whole-heartedly.

SEE THIS MOVIE IF: you want to see how little joy would be had spending one’s life pretending to be someone else OR you don’t want to miss two Oscar-caliber performances (Close, McTeer)

SKIP THIS MOVIE IF: misery in 1890’s Dublin holds no more interest for you than misery in any other era or locale

watch the trailer:


KICK-ASS (2010)

April 17, 2010

 Greetings again from the darkness. Just when you are convinced the comic book movie genre has been overdone, in swoops director Matthew Vaughn (the rocking Layer Cake) to reach an entirely new level through a unique, unconventional and twisted approach. It does’t take but a few minutes to realize that clichés mixed with shocks will mess with your movie-processing mind!

Somehow we are treated to teen angst,superhero-ism and most every human emotion and type between the two. WARNING: this movie is rated R and it is a strong R … IT IS NOT FOR KIDS! The film slam-dances between ultra violence and uber-geekdom and satire driven slapstick. We get a 12 year old Chloe Moretz as Hit Girl, wielding weapons even more deadly than her shockingly adult tongue. Moretz was also a standout in last year’s 500 Days of Summer. We get her revenge-driven, ex-clean cop Big Daddy father (Nicolas Cage) in Batman costume mentoring her to the ways of a world class assassin. I busted out laughing when I realized that Mr. Cage’s voice mannerism mimic that of the great Adam West while donning the black cape. A very nice touch. Our other home grown, would be superheroes are Aaron Johnson as Kick-ass (replete with green scuba suit) and McLovin (Christopher Mintz-Plasse) as Red Mist. Most of these characters are one step removed from One Flew Over the Cuckoo’s Nest.

Of course a comic book story must have a top notch villain and these days there are few better than Mark Strong. He delivers another terrific dead-pan performance as a drug lord and father to Red Mist. Strong’s character is the driving force behind Big Daddy’s quest for revenge.

Aaron Johnson’s Kick-ass is an example of the clunky teenager who has a good heart and is desperate for attention from the girls. He even accepts being labeled as gay by the hot chick he adores just so he can spend time with her. He hangs at the comic book store with his equally geeky friends and then “transforms” into Kick-ass, a superhero with no powers other than a desire to do what’s right and help those in need.

Mark Millar’s script balances many cultural and societal observations while delivering a visual parade of images and sounds (wonderful music and score … including ELVIS) and moments that will keep the viewer unsettled. You might think it odd that an early scene lingers on a giant advertisement featuring Claudia Schiffer. Ms. Schiffer is married to the director and becomes one of many tributes and satires throughout the film. This is quite a different experience and one that not all will enjoy … but it is to be admired for reaching for new levels.