Savages


 

Savages

Blake Lively is jealous that Salma Hayek gets a meal and she gets a salad.

(2012) Drama (Universal) Taylor Kitsch, Aaron Johnson, Blake Lively, Benicio del Toro, Salma Hayek, John Travolta, Emile Hirsch, Demian Bechir, Amber Dixon, Joel David Moore, Diego Catano, Shea Whigham, Joaquin Cosio, Antonio Jaramillo. Directed by Oliver Stone

 

When pushed to the wall, we all do what we have to in order to survive. We may be the most peaceable souls normally but that all changes in certain situations. Sometimes, we must become savages in order to make it through.

Chon (Kitsch) and Ben (Johnson) have a business together. Their business happens to be growing marijuana. Ben is a botanist and a businessman from Berkeley. He has managed to breed the most amazing weed on the planet and has put together a network of distributors that keeps costs down and quality high.

Chon is the big stick in the equation. Ben’s business model doesn’t call for violence often but when it’s needed Chon supplies it. He’s a vet fresh off of tour in Afghanistan who has a cynical outlook on life. He’s the yin to Ben’s yang….er, or vice versa.

What they have in common is O. Which stands for orgasm. Which stands for Ophelia (Lively). She is Ben’s girlfriend. She’s also Chon’s girlfriend. Sometimes all at the same time. She has orgasms. Ben has orgasms. Chon has wargasms. It all works out nicely for everyone. Life is kind of a stoner paradise from their beach house in the OC.

Then it becomes clear that the Baja cartels want to invade. Alex (Bechir), a slimy lawyer, puts what sounds like a reasonable proposition out to Chon and Ben. Chon is suspicious and Ben is more interested in getting out of the business entirely. However when they turn down the offer, Elena (Hayek), the head of the cartel, sics her vicious enforcer Lado (del Toro) on the boys. He discovers their weakness is O (not orgasms, Ophelia who provides them – she likes to be called O because she hates her name by the way) and kidnaps their weakness.

At first Chon and particularly Ben are so concerned with O’s safety that they’ll do literally anything to ensure it. But as they get their composure back it becomes clear that once the cartel gets what they want (their superb weed and their business model) all three of them will be disposed of so it’s all-out war – reluctantly on Ben’s side. And in any war, there are casualties.

Say what you want about Oliver Stone’s politics, his point of view, the man can direct – JFK is one of my all-time favorite movies. It’s just that sometimes he has a habit of inserting himself into a movie – the good ol’ “Look Ma I’m Directing” syndrome, or LMIDS.

Much of the problem is in the narration. Blake Lively is a fine actress but there is just far too much narration and what that is generally is the filmmaker inserting themselves into the story. Trust the story to tell itself – and trust the actors to convey what’s in their heads. If you have to narrate every scene, you’re selling your story and your cast short.

And part of the problem is also in the story itself. The main characters are a little narcissistic, a bit naive, and they do a lot of drugs. I mean Ben, O and Chon smoke a lot of their own product. That may make it seem like they’re just kids in paradise but in reality they’re criminals, selling illegal narcotics. They do some pretty bad things along the way which might be part of Stone’s message, but I’ve never been a fan of 70s movies that require you to root for the bad guy who’s less bad.

And there are some pretty impressive performances here, particularly from del Toro who’s as magnificent a villain as we’ve seen since Javier Bardem in No Country for Old Men and Christoph Waltz in Inglourious Basterds. He delights in inflicting pain and torment but he’s all business as well. He’s as frightening an enforcer as you’re ever likely to meet. Not that you meet a lot of enforcers.

For all intents and purposes this is a kind of Jules et Jim for stoners but done as a crime drama with a side of brutality. Does that really sound like an interesting film to you? Maybe it is and I’m just missing it but quite frankly I never connected to the movie and I usually do with Stone’s works. I haven’t even mentioned the ending which is really jump-the-shark bad. It’s definitely a LMIDS move that adds an additional unnecessary fifteen minutes onto the film and for no other reason than for the filmmakers to pull a fast one on their audience.

I’m not one for recommending this but this is the kind of movie that probably should best be experienced while bombed out of your gourd. It will help with the somewhat unlikely plot and the somewhat unlikable characters. But mostly, it will help with the directorial parlor tricks that serve to take you out of the film and remind you that this is an Oliver Stone Production. We only need the opening credits to remind us of that; anything else is just an overactive ego.

REASONS TO GO: Del Toro may well be the best screen baddie in the business at the moment.

REASONS TO STAY: Overly narrated and too many cutesie directorial moves. Very difficult to get invested in the main characters. The ending is really godawful.

FAMILY VALUES: There is a whole lot of drug use – and I mean a lot. If that kind of thing makes you uncomfortable, this isn’t the movie for you. There’s also a lot of violence, a bit of torture, plenty of sex, some gruesome images, nudity and pretty much constant cursing. This is what they call a “Hard R.”

TRIVIAL PURSUIT: Uma Thurman was cast to play Ophelia’s mother but her part was cut from the film.

CRITICAL MASS: As of 7/24/12: Rotten Tomatoes: 54% positive reviews. Metacritic: 61/100. The reviews are fairly mixed, trending towards the positive.

COMPARISON SHOPPING: Traffic

HACIENDA LOVERS: Elena lives in two homes; one in Mexico and one in California – both are hacienda-style villas that are excellent examples of the form of architecture so prevalent in the American Southwest and Mexico.

FINAL RATING: 5/10

NEXT: Father of Invention

New Releases for the Week of July 6, 2012


July 6, 2012

THE AMAZING SPIDER-MAN

(Columbia) Andrew Garfield, Emma Stone, Rhys Ifans, Denis Leary, Campbell Scott, Irrfan Khan, Martin Sheen, Sally Field, Embeth Davidtz, C. Thomas Howell. Directed by Marc Webb

Peter Parker, a brilliant but somewhat outcast high school student, was abandoned by his parents as a child, leaving him to be raised by his Uncle Ben and Aunt May. When he finds a mysterious briefcase that his father left behind, he’s sent on a journey to Oscorp, the somewhat unbalanced one-armed scientist Curt Connors and a rendezvous with a radioactive spider.

See the trailer, interviews and clips here.

For more on the movie this is the website.

Release formats: Standard, 3D, IMAX 3D

Genre: Superhero

Rating: PG-13 (for sequences of action and violence)

Bol Bachchan

(Fox Star) Ajay Devgn, Abhishek Bachchan, Asin Thottumkal, Prachi Desai. A Muslim breaks the lock on a Hindu temple to save a trapped child but through a series of misunderstandings is believed to be a Hindu. In order to preserve the lie, he is forced to tell more and more outrageous tales until he is trapped by his own falsehoods.

See the trailer  here.

For more on the movie this is the website.

Release formats: Standard

Genre: Bollywood

Rating: PG (for sequences of action violence, thematic elements and brief mild language)

Katy Perry: Part of Me

(Paramount/InSurge) Katy Perry, Glen Ballard, Shannon Woodward, Rachael Markarian. A chronicle of Perry’s California Dreams Tour of 2011, during which her marriage with Russell Brand came to an end. How she coped with that loss, her relationship with her fans and the story of her perseverance in becoming a pop diva is told through interviews and archival footage. There is also, as you can imagine, plenty of concert footage from the Staples Center in Los Angeles.

See the trailer and clips here.

For more on the movie this is the website.

Release formats: Standard, 3D

Genre: Musical Documentary

Rating: PG (for some suggestive content, language, thematic elements and brief smoking)

Savages

(Universal) Taylor Kitsch, John Travolta, Blair Lively, Salma Hayek. Two Southern California friends share a thriving Marijuana business and a girlfriend. When a particularly vicious Mexican drug cartel moves into their territory and demands that they work with them, the two friends decline, leading to a cycle of escalating violence and high stakes. Oliver Stone directs.

See the trailer and promo here.

For more on the movie this is the website.

Release formats: Standard

Genre: Thriller

Rating: R (for strong brutal and grisly violence, some graphic sexuality, nudity, drug use and language throughout)

To Rome With Love

(Sony Classics) Alec Baldwin, Roberto Benigni, Penelope Cruz, Jesse Eisenberg. Woody Allen’s latest takes him to the Eternal City for the first time, following a group of people – some local, others that are visitors – who fall in love, or fall out of love…or get into some pretty odd predicaments because of love.

See the trailer here.

For more on the movie this is the website.

Release formats: Standard

Genre: Comedy

Rating: PG-13 (for some crude sexual remarks and brief drug references)

Four-Warned: July 2012


July 2012Every month I’m going to look at every movie on the release schedule and try to assign them a numerical value corresponding to how anxious I am to see it. The lower the number, the more I want to see it. A one means I would walk through hell and high water to see it; a four means there’s no interest whatsoever. The numbers are not arrived at scientifically but they aren’t arbitrary either.

The numbers aren’t a reflection of the artistic merit of any of these films, but merely a reflection of my willingness to go to a movie theater and see it. The top four scores will be gathered as a means of reflecting the movies I’m anticipating the most; you may use that as a guide or not.

Each entry is broken down as follows:

NAME OF FILM (Studio) Genre A brief description of the plot. Release plans: Wide = Everywhere, Limited = In selected markets. RATING A brief comment

Keep in mind that release dates are extremely subject to change, even at this late date.

FOUR TO SEE
1. THE DARK KNIGHT RISES (1.0)
2. THE AMAZING SPIDER-MAN (1.2)
3. THE WATCH (1.8)
4. SAVAGES (2.0)

FOUR TO SEEK OUT (FILMS NOT IN WIDE RELEASE)
1. HARA-KIRI: DEATH OF A SAMURAI (1.4)
2. RUBY SPARKS (1.5)
3. PLANET OF SNAIL (1.6)
TIE. SACRIFICE (1.6)

RATING SYSTEM: 1) Must-see, 2) Should-see, 3) Perhaps-see, 4) Don’t-see

JULY 3, 2012

THE AMAZING SPIDER-MAN (Columbia) Genre: Superhero. A young man searches for clues to his parents disappearance while dealing with his own nascent superpowers and a lizard-like creature terrorizing New York. Release Strategy: Wide (Standard, 3D, IMAX 3D). RATING: 1.2 One wonders if this reboot of the franchise will live up to the previous trilogy but I have faith in director Marc Webb.

JULY 5, 2012

KATE PERRY: PART OF ME (Paramount Insurge) Genre: Concert. Follows the quirky pop chanteuse on her 2011 California Dreams tour. Release Strategy: Wide. RATING: 3.8 While I admire her personally for her perseverance and her determination to be who she is, her music just isn’t my personal cup of tea.

JULY 6, 2012

COLLABORATOR (Tribeca) Genre: Drama. A reunion between childhood friends goes horribly wrong. Release Strategy: Limited. RATING: 2.2 Looks a bit like a black comedy crossed with a crime drama; could be a winner.
CRAZY EYES (Strand) Genre: Drama. An L.A. rich kid who’s smack dab in the middle of the Hollywood party scene finds the demands of real life increasing. Release Strategy: Los Angeles only. RATING: 3.3 I’m not sure I can get behind the poor little rich kid drama here.
THE DO DECA-PENTATHLON (Fox Searchlight/Red Flag) Genre: Comedy. A pair of ultra-competitive brothers engage in a twisted Olympics-style competition during a family reunion. Release Strategy: Limited. RATING: 1.9 From the Duplass Brothers who have done several admirable films including Cyrus and Jeff, Who Lives at Home.
LAST RIDE (Music Box) Genre: Drama. A boy is bundled into the family car in the middle of the night by his dad and they take a frightening journey into the unknown. Release Strategy: New York City only. RATING: 2.1 Looks extremely compelling and with Hugo Weaving in the lead, I’m all in.
THE MAGIC OF BELLE ISLE (Magnet) Genre: Dramedy. An aging writer of Western novels whose alcoholism has led to a decline in his skills finds inspiration in the family next door when he rents a lakeside vacation home for the summer. Release Strategy: Limited. RATING: 2.9 I love Morgan Freeman but somehow I just don’t see him as a bitter old man who’s given up on life.
THE PACT (IFC Midnight) Genre: Horror. A pair of sisters staying in their mother’s old home after she passes away discovers dark secrets about her past even as unexplained things begin happening in the house. Release Strategy: Limited. RATING: 2.3 I just love haunted house movies and this looks like a good one.
SAVAGES (Universal) Genre: Crime Thriller. A Mexican drug cartel tries to intimidate a pair of high-end pot growers to supply them by kidnapping their woman. Release Strategy: Wide. RATING: 2.0 Looks a bit like Oliver Stone is doing his version of Traffic.
STARRY STARRY NIGHT (China Lion) Genre: Drama. A young girl falls in love with a young boy even as her parents’ divorce and her grandfather lies dying; on a journey to her grandparents home together they embark on a journey more profound than they could imagine. Release Strategy: New York City only. RATING: 1.7 Looks imaginative and visually striking; can’t wait to see this one.

JULY 11, 2012

EASY MONEY (Weinstein) Genre: Crime Drama. Three people on the fringes of the Swedish underworld collide over a stolen cocaine shipment. Release Strategy: Limited. RATING: 1.9 This Swedish film got universal acclaim and is already being remade by Martin Scorsese.

JULY 13, 2012

ALPS (Kino Lorber) Genre: Drama. A company specializing in playing roles of the deceased to family, friends and business colleagues begins to fall apart when one of its members goes off-script. Release Strategy: New York City only. RATING: 2.5 A look at the grieving process that is certainly out of the box.
BALLPLAYER: PETOLERO (Strand) Genre: Sports Documentary. The brutally competitive world of major league baseball camps in the Dominican Republic is just the beginning of the cost of achieving baseball stardom. Release Strategy: Limited. RATING: 2.2 Looks far from being a whitewash and sheds some light on a corrupt system.
FAMILY PORTRAIT IN BLACK AND WHITE (First Pond) Genre: Documentary. Ukrainian foster mom Olga Nenya, raising 23 foster kids as a single woman, is profiled. Release Strategy: New York City only. RATING: 2.9 Looks compelling and complicated as racism – as well as how love sometimes condones it – enters the mix.
FAREWELL, MY QUEEN (Cohen) Genre: Drama. The final days of Marie Antoinette as seen by one of her ladies in waiting. Release Strategy: Limited. RATING: 2.1 Looks sumptuous and sexy; could be worth seeking out.
ICE AGE: CONTINENTAL DRIFT (20th Century Fox) Genre: Animated Feature. When the Pangaea continent splits into the seven we know today, Manny, Diego and Sid are split from their families and must find their way back. Release Strategy: Wide (Standard, 3D, IMAX 3D). RATING: 2.7 The franchise looks to be losing a bit of steam in its fourth installment.
THE IMPOSTOR (Indomina) Genre: Documentary. After a young boy is kidnapped from his Texas home, he is found alive and well in Southern Spain years later with an incredible tale of torture and survival, but all is not what it appears to be. Release Strategy: New York City only. RATING: 2.0 Looks so bizarre and compelling it has to be true – and it is.
RED LIGHTS (Millennium) Genre: Thriller. A paranormal researcher specializing in debunking charlatans and hoaxers is determined to expose a blind psychic as a fraud – but may wind up having to re-examine his own core beliefs. Release Strategy: Limited. RATING: 2.4 Looks pretty spooky, but something tells me it isn’t; still a cast that includes Sigourney Weaver, Robert De Niro and Cillian Murphy has got to have something going for it.
TRISHNA (Sundance Selects) Genre: Drama. The daughter of a poor family working at a resort falls in love with the son of the resort’s only; when they become a couple the deep schism between classes in India threatens the relationship. Release Strategy: Limited. RATING: 1.9 An adaptation of Tess of the D’Urbervilles set in India.
UNION SQUARE (DADA) Genre: Drama. A pair of estranged sisters collide as one is about to be married and the other is in the midst of a nervous breakdown. Release Strategy: Limited. RATING: 2.6 Kinda looks like indie neurotic New Yorker hipster chic.

JULY 20, 2012

30 BEATS (Roadside Attractions) Genre: Romantic Comedy. A summer heat wave triggers a series of sexual encounters in New York City. Release Strategy: Limited. RATING: 2.6 A hot, steamy, Big Apple-centric version of the French classic La Ronde.
THE DARK KNIGHT RISES (Warner Brothers) Genre: Superhero. Batman returns from self-imposed exile and outlaw status to once again rescue Gotham, this time from the clutches of the madman Bane. Release Strategy: Wide (Standard, IMAX). RATING: 1.0 Hopefully Christopher Nolan’s final visit to the world of the Dark Knight will exit with a bang.
HARA-KIRI: DEATH OF A SAMURAI (Tribeca) Genre: Drama. A samurai requests an honorable suicide of his liege lord, prompting the revelation of unexpected secrets. Release Strategy: New York City only. RATING: 1.4 From legendary director Takashi Miike comes this gorgeous looking samurai film.
THE QUEEN OF VERSAILLES (Magnolia) Genre: Documentary. Timeshare multi-millionaires set to build the largest private home in America only to fall victim to the economic crash. Release Strategy: Limited. RATING: 2.1 Seems like a look at how divorced from reality the 1% really is.

JULY 25, 2012

PLANET OF SNAIL (Cinema Guild) Genre: Documentary. The story of a blind and deaf Chinese poet and his beautiful wife who communicate through finger Braille and have created an amazing, beautiful life for each other. Release Strategy: New York City only. RATING: 1.6 Much of the film is set to his poetry; this looks like one of those movies which might sneak out of the really small indie distributor sets to make a real impact.
RUBY SPARKS (Fox Searchlight) Genre: Fantasy. A lonely young author suffering from writer’s block breaks through it by writing about a fictional girl who shows up in his apartment. Release Strategy: Limited. RATING: 1.5 Reminds me a little bit of Stranger Than Fiction.

JULY 27, 2012

AI WEIWEI: NEVER SORRY (Sundance Selects) Genre: Documentary. In honor of a Chinese photographer under house arrest for photographing people flipping the bird at symbols of injustice in his homeland, this film shows artists and activists around the world doing the same. Release Strategy: Limited. RATING: 3.2 Explores the link between art and activism and how each can bring about change.
BIG BOYS GONE BANANAS!* (WG) Genre: Documentary. A documentary about the abuse of Nicaraguan plantation workers is subjected to the bullying tactics of a multinational corporation. Release Strategy: New York City (opening in Los Angeles August 3). RATING: 2.2 A sobering look at how major corporations can subvert freedom of speech using the legal system.
KILLER JOE (LD Distribution) Genre: Thriller. A drug dealer whose mother steals his stash must come up with six grand or die; when he discovers his mother’s insurance policy will more than cover it he hires a hitman who will accept the dealer’s sister as sexual collateral. Release Strategy: Limited. RATING: 2.0 Looks delightfully twisted and Matthew McConaughey is as badass as he’s ever been in the title role.
KLOWN (Drafthouse) Genre: Comedy. A man kidnaps his pregnant girlfriend’s nephew in order to prove to her that he is father material and gets caught up in the 12-year-old boy’s sexual misadventures. Release Strategy: Limited. RATING: 2.5 This was one of the most talked about (in a good way) movies at this year’s Florida Film Festival.
NUIT #1 (Adopt) Genre: Drama. Two seemingly mismatched people hook up after a rave and instead of going their separate ways the morning after they stay and divulge their innermost secrets to one another. Release Strategy: New York City only. RATING: 2.8 An unconventional love story from the French Canadian perspective.
RITES OF SPRING (IFC Midnight) Genre: Horror. The kidnapping of the daughter of a wealthy socialite sharply divides the kidnappers in the abandoned school they’re using as a hideout, paving the way for a mysterious creature that requires ritualistic sacrifices. Release Strategy: New York City only. RATING: 3.2 Looks a bit cliché.
SACRIFICE (Goldwyn) Genre: Martial Arts. After a power-mad general wipes out a rivals entire family, the surviving newborn is protected and raised by the doctor that delivered him as an instrument of his own revenge. Release Strategy: Limited. RATING: 1.6 A powerful tale of sacrifice and vengeance from legendary Chinese director Chen Kaige.
SEARCHING FOR SUGAR MAN (Sony Classics) Genre: Documentary. A couple of South African fans seek the true story of Rodriguez, a legendary rocker from Detroit who released one album in the 70s that bombed and disappeared into obscurity. Release Strategy: Limited. RATING: 2.4 Looks like it can be one of those rock and roll mythologies where the truth is even better than the legend.
STEP UP REVOLUTION (Summit) Genre: Urban Dance. A well-known Miami flash mob decides to use their creativity to help thwart a greedy developer’s attempts to raze a neighborhood for a new hotel. Release Strategy: Wide. RATING: 4.0 Dance movies as you can tell by my rating leave me stone cold.
THE WATCH (20th Century Fox) Genre: Sci-Fi Comedy. A neighborhood watch group discovers that an alien invasion is underway and their neighborhood is ground zero. Release Strategy: Wide. RATING: 1.8 I probably should be a little more leery after the last Ben Stiller-led all-star ensemble film.

SCHEDULED TO BE REVIEWED HERE AS NEW RELEASES
The Amazing Spider-Man, Savages, Ice Age: Continental Drift, The Dark Knight Rises, The Queen of Versailles, The Watch.