Saturday, July 7, 2012
Oliver Stone's Savages tells the tale of marijuana dealers Ben (Aaron Johnson) and Chon (Taylor Kitsch). Chon- an Afghanistan/Iraq war vet and a hardened shell of a man- and Ben- a Buddhist graduate of Berkley, a volunteer in third world countries and believer in peace- make quite the partnership. They share the highest esteem in the marijuana distribution business; they share the cars and beach-side mansion; they share the riches that come with the job. Most passionately, they share O (as in Shakespeare's Othello). Though she receives the upmost respect from Ben and Chon, O has acquired the exact opposite from previous men in her life. There's no jealousy between the three; they all three love eachother equally. Chon "f**ks" her, and Ben "makes love". The reality and downside to the fairytale is that it's dangerous for men of their grandeur and wealth to have such a precious thing as O in their life. Unfortunately for this unwavering trio, the Mexican druglords after a cut of their business know of this vulnerability as well as the viewer. When threatened with missing out on the boys' business, drug lord Elena (Salma Hayek) and her right hand men Lado (Benicio Del Toro) and Alex (Damien Bichir) kidnap O with the threat of a slow death to inspire the boys to hand over $13 million. The boys will stop at nothing, eliminating anyone in their path to get her back.
Aaron Johnson's (Kick Ass) great; always is. Nuff said. Taylor Kitsch is the new Keanu Reeves, which is not necessarily a bad thing if he sticks with the right directors like Reeves did. Stone was wise with his use of Kitsch. Neither Reeves nor Kitsch can express emotion well, so a film like Savages is ideal (as his character is a shell of a man after the war; a killing machine) for Kitsch in the same way The Matrix and Point Break were ideal for Keanu. Salma Hayek cast as the drug lord was a perfect fit- if for no other reason- because she's married to a billionaire in real life and her character is fittingly filthy rich (she has people at her manshion who massage her feet, cook her food, etc). Even John Travolta was standable, as he occasionally can be, in this film as a loud mouth DEA agent. These positive choices, thankfully numerous, barely overshadow the worst choice ever- Blake Lively in a lead role. Punch me in the face. Most will claim that Lively was the worst part of the great film that was The Town. Beneficially for that film however, she had a minor role as a snitching, slutty ex-girlfriend of the protagonist (Ben Affleck, also the director). It was easy to dislike her, but it's what the film called for. Oliver Stone wanted us to love Blake Lively's character in Savages and, speaking for myself, I wanted to make Jim Carrey's "most annoying sound in the world" everytime she opened her mouth- which was a lot. Lively narrated the film in an intentionally, over-dramatized, raspy, "sexy" voice that left me wondering what could have been if a more talented, easier-on-the-ears voice over such as Gilbert Godfrey had taken the role. Thankfully for Stone and viewers around the world, the rest of the film was an exciting, smart, and at times funny thrillride. Stone returns to the violence and brutality we all loved in Natural Born Killers. The two leads worked together like a new age Butch Cassidy and The Sundance Kid (which were referenced in the film, surely due to the inspiration it supplied Stone). Benicio Del Toro gives his best performance in years (probably since Che: Part I and II) as a sadistic, murderous cartel leader. His remarkably detestable portrayal is on par with Christoph Waltz's Nazi in Inglorious Basterds- just wow. Between the alluring photography of California and Mexico, the return to aggression from Stone, and the excitement of young, rich, successful lovers chasing fortune and a wild ride, Savages was an enjoyable summer flick.
I give Savages a B.
Blake lively would fit in most properly in music videos-- a pretty face with no lines. If you LOVE Blake Lively, Savages will be your Gone With the Wind.
Tuesday, May 1, 2012
Wednesday, April 18, 2012
Jeff, Who Lives at Home, directed by Jay and Mark Duplass (Cyrus, Nights and Weekends), tells the story of Jeff (believe it or not)- played by Jason Segel (Forgetting Sarah Marshall, The Muppets)- a man in his thirties struggling to understand his “destiny” whilst living in his mother’s (Susan Sarandon) basement. Finding it difficult to persuade Jeff to even simply clean the gutters, his mother calls on brother Pat (Ed Helms) to reach out to Jeff with the hopes of making a breakthrough. Though Jeff may not have a job, a wife, or a Porsche like Pat, he seems to have a connection to the cosmos of the universe- paying attention to signs such as recurring names and numbers and following his heart. On this particular day, these signs have led the brothers to discovering a strange, secret relationship that has formed between Pat’s wife and an unknown man. In order to get to the bottom of this, however, Pat and Jeff will have to act like true brothers: something they haven’t done in a long time. Will the duo solve of this mystery? Will they strangle each other in the meantime? Will Jeff climb out of this ditch of dawdling despair?
The Duplass brothers are known (at least by myself) for creating real comedies. No explosions; no unrealistic, wacky characters; they direct films for us, about us. As a result of this, we find ourselves far more emotionally drawn to the characters of their films than to say, the characters of Anchorman (though a thoroughly enjoyable slapstick comedy). The film begins with an audio journal, spoken by the title character, about his thoughts on the film Signs and how he believes there are signs everywhere if you open your mind to them. Much like the film Signs, Jeff, Who Lives at Home comes full circle, with many laughs and heartfelt moments along the way. Regardless of which character you relate to most, the pathos and wide range of personality in this film will cling to something deep inside you and make investing your time and attention for ninety minutes not only enjoyable, but a necessity. With films such as Alvin and the Chipmunks: The Squeakwal and Bucky Larson: Born to be a Star out there, it’s great when films like Jeff show up and remind me that not every project is solely a paycheck, and some films were written and directed with a love for story-telling. I paid for a movie, and I left the theater- credits rolling behind me- with a new pep in my walk for free. Jeff, Who Lives at Home is an ideal cinematic experience, earning 4 stars in my book.