Blood Creek (Town Creek)


Michael Fassbender just loves his new skin treatment.

Michael Fassbender just loves his new skin treatment.

(2009) Horror (Lionsgate) Henry Cavill, Dominic Purcell, Michael Fassbender, Emma Booth, Rainer Winkelvoss, Laszlo Matray, Joy McBrinn, Shea Whigham, Tony Barger, Douglas Roger, Michael Ntumba, Razvan Oprea, Ana Popescu, Florin Piersic Jr., Gerald McSorley, Vlad Voda, Albert Gherasim, Wentworth Miller, Lynn Collins.  Directed by Joel Schumacher

Some horror movies one must admire for their ambition but criticize for their execution. Some are just the opposite. Most fall in between.

In West Virginia circa 1936 a family of German émigrés working on a farm receive a letter asking them to host a German occultist doing research on a Viking runestone that they found in their barn. As they are barely making ends meet in the Depression-era rural South, the $150 a month they would receive for hosting the professor would be a Godsend.

At first Dr, Richard Wirth (Fassbender) seems like a harmless academic but soon it becomes clear that Dr. Wirth has a far more sinister motive in mind. The family is forced to set a spell trapping Wirth in their barn and the family is also caught up in the spell, not becoming immortal as Wirth did but certainly not aging normally.

Cut to modern times. Farmer Evan Marshall (Cavill) receives a visit one night from his brother Victor (Purcell). This wouldn’t ordinarily arouse comment except that Victor has been missing for months and when he shows up he is hideously scarred and looks like a cross between one of the Deliverance hillbillies and Frankenstein’s monster. He ropes Evan into taking him back to the farm where he had been held captive and getting his revenge on the family that kept him there.

You can guess which farm and which family he’s talking about. What you couldn’t guess – or maybe you could if you’ve seen a lot of horror movies – is that Wirth has mutated into a kind of Nazi vampire zombie master with terrifying powers. Although the comely farmer’s daughter Liese (Booth) tries to persuade Evan that they’re actually the good guys keeping the monster at Bay for well over three quarters of a century, Victor is having none of it with predictable consequences.

Lionsgate had at one time in the studio’s history released a glut of horror movies onto the market and in the latter part of the first decade of the 21st century began to be a little pickier about what they put their distribution behind. Therefore nifty little movies like this and Midnight Meat Train got microscopic releases, in Blood Creek‘s case a mere 25 theaters nationwide, mostly of the dollar variety.

I think this deserved better. Certainly it’s flawed but there are some pretty nifty elements that I’d certainly recommend. For one thing Fassbender, on the eve of his breakthrough as an actor, makes a thoroughly compelling and hissable villain. Cavill and Purcell both did competent jobs as the heroic leads and while Booth wasn’t given a whole lot to do is at least easy to look at.

There is an awful lot of hand-held camera work in the movie to its own detriment. At times it’s really difficult to make out what’s going on and some important plot elements become confusing and for those of us who are sensitive to shaky cam, the movie can be painful at times. While the movie builds up to its conclusion well, the actual ending is a bit of a letdown.

But then again as much as I would have liked more spectacle, you (and I as well) have to realize that this is a pretty low-budget affair – how tight a budget do you have to have when West Virginia is too expensive a location to shoot in? For the record, Romania stands in for West Virginia which makes perfect sense and quite frankly, it looks a lot of the West Virginia I’ve seen on the Internet.

Anyway, as low budget horror movies go this isn’t half bad. There are some genuine scares, plenty of gore and some nifty ideas. There are also some lapses in logic which is often a bugaboo in horror movies. If you like a good scare and want to try something out you haven’t seen before, you could certainly do worse than this. Not a hidden gem so much as a surprisingly good but flawed grindhouse flick.

WHY RENT THIS: Really nice concept. Fassbender rocks the villain. Smartly paced.

WHY RENT SOMETHING ELSE: Overuse of hand-held “shaky” cams. Ending lacked punch.

FAMILY VALUES: Plenty of violence and gore as well as some pretty crude language.

TRIVIAL PURSUIT: Jesse Metcalf was originally set to star but had to drop out of the production for undisclosed reasons. Cavill was brought in to take the lead role.

NOTABLE HOME VIDEO EXTRAS: None listed.

BOX OFFICE PERFORMANCE: Not available.

COMPARISON SHOPPING: Dead Snow

FINAL RATING: 5.5/10

NEXT: Anchorman 2: The Legend Continues

Take Shelter


Michael Shannon has a point.

Michael Shannon has a point.

(2011) Drama (Sony Classics) Michael Shannon, Jessica Chastain, Shea Whigham, Katy Mixon, Kathy Baker, Tova Stewart, Natasha Randall, Ron Kennard, Scott Knisley, Robert Longstreet, Heather Caldwell, Guy Van Swearingen, LisaGay Hamilton, Ray McKinnon, Stuart Greer, Bart Flynn, Sheila Hullihen, John Kloock, Marianna Alacchi. Directed by Jeff Nichols

One man’s prophecy is another man’s mental illness. We sometimes have dreams that are disturbingly real and sometimes we ascribe some sort of prophecy of the future to them. Sometimes the dreams are so vivid and repetitive we think that they MUST be trying to communicate something to us. Is it a kind of craziness – or something we ignore at our peril?

Curtis LaForche (Shannon) is a pretty ordinary guy living in a small town and working construction. His wife Samantha (Chastain) sells crafts to supplement their income which they sorely need; their daughter Hannah (Stewart) is deaf but a cochlear transplant might restore at least partial hearing. Curtis’ insurance would make that operation possible. With this hope looming ahead of them, life is pretty good all in all.

But all is not perfect. Curtis begins to have some disturbing dreams; the family dog inexplicably attacks him. And most importantly, a massive storm destroys his home. The dreams are so vivid that Curtis begins to act on them in waking life. He pens his dog – who has always been mellow and well-behaved – in the yard. And he begins to work on expanding his storm shelter.

His best friend Dewart (Whigham) is sanguine about all this, defending his friend as the towns people begin to whisper that Curtis may be losing it. Curtis isn’t so sure that they’re wrong – there’s a history of mental illness in his family, and he consults with his institutionalized mother (Baker) to see if she had dreams when her problems started.

But things are escalating out of control as Curtis’ dreams grow more and more disturbing. His behavior takes a turn for the worse and when he loses his job even his saintly wife must admit that something is terribly wrong. Is Curtis losing his mind? Or is he privy to a terrible tragedy that will destroy everything he has if he does nothing about it?

Nichols, who first directed Shannon in Shotgun Stories and met him as an actor on Tigerland does a fine job of blurring the line between dreams and reality. There are times when we realize that we are viewing a dream (as when the sky rains oil) but there are others where we aren’t entirely sure and neither is Curtis.

Speaking of Curtis, this is one of Shannon’s best roles to date. Most people to this point recognized him for his work on Boardwalk Empire although his turn as General Zod on Man of Steel may have netted him some mainstream notice. Shannon has always come off to my way of thinking and a tightly wound spring. There is always an undercurrent of darkness in his characters, even his comedic ones (although his comedic rules are few and far between). His size and his intensity make him intimidating and that shines right through in nearly every role he plays.

Chastain, who was in the midst of a pretty good run when this was made, also does some sterling work although she’s a bit overshadowed by Shannon. She has quickly become one of the most reliable actresses in Hollywood. While she has been less busy in 2013 (she appeared in no less than seven feature films that were released in 2012) she has built a great base to build a stellar career on. No doubt there are further accolades in her future.

The movie is a bit predictable in places, particularly towards the end but otherwise this is a really good movie. The viewer is left, along with the characters in the movie, to wonder if Curtis is really having visions or just going nuts. I wish the ending would have been a little more ambiguous but otherwise I really liked the way this movie developed and even more so Shannon’s performance which was Oscar-worthy although he wound up not being nominated. Something tells me you don’t have to be much of a prophet to predict that there will be Oscars in his trophy case at some point.

WHY RENT THIS: A bravura performance by Shannon. Blurs the line between reality and dreams nicely.

WHY RENT SOMETHING ELSE: Predictable at times.

FAMILY VALUES: The language is a bit rough here.

TRIVIAL PURSUIT: Stewart, who plays Hannah, the deaf daughter of Curtis and Samantha, is deaf in real life.

NOTABLE HOME VIDEO EXTRAS: There is a Q&A in which Shannon and Nichols discuss their long-time friendship and this film in particular.

BOX OFFICE PERFORMANCE: $3.1M on a $5M production budget.

COMPARISON SHOPPING: Field of Dreams

FINAL RATING: 7/10

NEXT: The Hunger Games: Catching Fire

Fast & Furious 6


Vin Diesel is heartbroken to discover that Michelle Rodriguez looks better in a wifebeater than he does.

Vin Diesel is heartbroken to discover that Michelle Rodriguez looks better in a wifebeater than he does.

(2013) Action (Universal) Vin Diesel, Dwayne Johnson, Paul Walker, Luke Evans, Michelle Rodriguez, Chris “Ludacris” Bridges, Tyrese Gibson, Jordana Brewster, Sung Kang, Gal Gadot, Gina Carano, Elsa Pataky, Clara Paget, Joe Taslim, Kim Kold, Samuel M. Stewart, Shea Whigham, Benjamin Davies, Matthew Stirling, David Ajala, There Lindhardt, Magda Rodriguez. Directed by Justin Lin   

I’m not much of a car person. I seriously couldn’t tell a carburetor from an alternator. When I go car shopping, I look for dependable. I drive a Honda for god’s sakes.

Which would probably make the characters in this film franchise squirm in horror. Any one of them could rebuild an engine of a Ferrari with parts from a Camry with their eyes closed and half asleep. And can they drive? Hoo lawd! These gals and fellers could put a 12-wheeler through a doggie door in a steel house at 90mph. And this series has thrived on people who think that kind of thing’s cool.

In the sixth installment of the series, the members of the crew are living large internationally after their big score in Rio. However, things never stay quiet for long for these guys. Hobbs (Johnson) shows up at Dom’s (Diesel) door, not particularly welcome. Even less welcome is Hobbs’ request that Dom’s crew reassemble to nab an international bad guy who is out to assemble a super-weapon out of component parts. After all, as Dom is happy to point out, they’re all retired from the game.

But Hobbs has a wild card to play – a photo of Letty Ortiz (Rodriguez), Dom’s girlfriend who apparently was murdered in Fast & Furious. Nope. Like at least one other character in the series, she shows up from the dead (albeit with no memory) but as one of the crew of said Eurobaddie, Owen Shaw (Evans). This is all the incentive Dom needs. Family is family, after all so he puts out some calls.

Those phone calls find Brian (Walker) and Dom’s sister Mia (Brewster) as new parents, Roman (Gibson) and Tej (Bridges) living the high life in Spain, Han (Kang) and Giselle (Gadot) living together in Hong Kong. They agree to help Dom bring Letty back, but Dom wants more – pardons for everyone so that they can go home again.

While Mia and Dom’s new squeeze Elena (Pataky) stay home to guard the baby, Hobbs and his new flunky Riley (Carano) join up with the crew in London to see if they can catch the guy who has eluded Hobbs for years. But the stakes are sky-high, Shaw’s team is as skilled as Dom’s only more vicious and Letty can’t remember Dom at all – in fact the first time they meet face to face she shoots him. This isn’t like any other job; they will be betrayed from within and more than one member of Dom’s team won’t come back from this.

Now, I want you to understand something up front – this isn’t reality at all. There are car stunts that defy gravity, plot points that defy logic and human bodies getting beat up so bad that they defy death. Da Queen and I were consistently making the “jumping the shark” signal to each other (an inverted V on one hand with two fingers on the other making a parabolic arc over the first) throughout the movie. And you know what? It didn’t matter. As ludicrous as this movie often is, it doesn’t matter – the entertainment quotient is so sky high that you ignore these lapses and just enjoy the ballet of man, machine and road.

Vinnie D and the Rock are both fairy limited at this point in their careers in terms of acting ability. That isn’t a knock or a criticism, they both I think understand what their comfort zone is and tend to stay well within it. While that may make for some fairly one-dimensional performances (and occasionally have) they are both also highly charismatic so their own personalities tend to inflect themselves on their characters. It so happens I like hanging out with these guys (or would if I knew them personally) so that isn’t a bad thing at all.

There’s a lot of posturing, a lot of attitude and some great stunts and car chases. While there is a nod to the underground racing roots of the series, the franchise is way beyond that now which is a very smart move – I think the car racing thing got old after the first one and they’ve really allowed themselves to appeal to more than a niche audience, which explains that their highest box office numbers have come with the last two films.

There is a cut scene at the end that you should hang out for – it explains one of the most notorious continuity lapses in the series and introduces a surprise new character in one of the great twists you’re ever going to see in a cut scene (up there with the reveal of Thanos).

This is great summer entertainment and has helped make a solid opening to the 2013 summer blockbuster season. There is definitely a Fast & Furious 7 in the works (already scheduled as of this date to open on July 11, 2014) which the cut scene sets up. As much as a non-car person that I am (as delineated above) and as much as I was disinterested in the series for the first four movies, the last two have made me a fan and I can’t wait for the next one.

REASONS TO GO: Varies the formula from the first two movies nicely while sticking to the things that made the first movie great. More Jeong is never a bad thing.

REASONS TO STAY: Scattershot much more than the first two films.

FAMILY VALUES:  Plenty of violence and automotive mayhem, some swearing and a bit of sexuality..

TRIVIAL PURSUIT: Michelle Rodriguez didn’t have a driver’s license when the series first started and only obtained one after filming began on the first film in the franchise.

CRITICAL MASS: As of 6/2/13: Rotten Tomatoes: 72% positive reviews. Metacritic: 61/100; critics surprisingly have gotten behind this one.

COMPARISON SHOPPING: The Italian Job (2003)

FINAL RATING: 7/10

NEXT: Frances Ha

Silver Linings Playbook


Bradley Cooper's fashion sense can drive a woman crazy.

Bradley Cooper’s fashion sense can drive a woman crazy.

(2012) Romance (Weinstein) Bradley Cooper, Jennifer Lawrence, Robert De Niro, Jacki Weaver, Chris Tucker, Anupam Kher, Shea Whigham, Julia Stiles, John Ortiz, Paul Herman, Dash Mihok, Matthew Russell, Cheryl Williams, Patrick McDade, Brea Bee, Regency Boles. Directed by David O. Russell

What normal is for the most part is highly subject to debate. We look at people who have mental issues with wary eyes as if their condition is not only contagious but also subject to a sudden outbreak of violence without any warning whatsoever. And yes, there are some people who are just like that.

Pat Solitano Jr. (Cooper) has been institutionalized for eight months. There’s been some sort of “incident” and here he is. However, his mom Dolores (Weaver) is checking him out, apparently against medical advice but with the blessing of the courts since he’d done his time. While his cheerful friend Danny (Tucker) tries to tag along (unsuccessfully), Dolores takes Pat home to his dad Pat Sr. (De Niro) who has some issues of his own.

Pat is determined to get back together with his wife Nikki (Bee) who it turns out was kind of the source of his predicament; Pat, a substitute teacher at the same school Nikki teaches at in Philadelphia, came home early one day to find her naked in the shower with the history teacher. And there was nothing clean going on in the shower either. So Pat snapped and wound up being diagnosed as bi-polar.

Now he’s trying to get his life back together again. He’s running and exercising, losing weight and getting into shape. He refuses to take his meds because they make him feel foggy and bloated. He runs by Nikki’s house and old school, only to find that she’s moved out and started teaching elsewhere. There’s a restraining order against Pat and going by the house is a violation, causing Officer Keogh (Mihok) to drop by and remind him that he has to stop this kind of behavior.

Then his good friend Ronnie (Ortiz) and his bitchy wife Veronica (Stiles) invite him over to dinner along with her sister Tiffany (Lawrence) whose husband had recently passed away. Tiffany also has some issues of her own, not the least of which is that she’s having sex with anyone and anybody regardless of sex or even if she’s attracted to them or not. There’s obviously tension between the sisters and Tiffany, who like Pat lacks an inner filter, finally decides to leave.

When Pat discovers that Tiffany still has contact with Nikki, he knows she could be the means to his salvation. She could get a letter to his wife explaining his situation, where he is and what’s going on with him – start the process of reconciliation. However Tiffany needs a partner for a ballroom dance contest and isn’t above using her position as leverage. Pat is willing to do anything to get his wife back…even humiliate himself. But finding a silver lining isn’t easy, especially when your dad is just as OCD as you are and nobody seems to understand how in love you and your wife truly are. Yeah, you really need a playbook, one better than even the mighty Philadelphia Eagles possess.

This was a bit of a dark horse when awards season commenced last year. Although Russell had Oscar pedigree established, this particular movie wasn’t expected to contend but it wound up with eight nominations and one win. Part of that is due to the outstanding performances Mr. Russell coaxed out of his actors.

Lawrence has blossomed into one of the finest young actresses working in Hollywood. After establishing herself with Winter’s Bone a couple of years ago she has become a lynchpin in a couple of major film franchises and now has won herself a Best Actress Oscar with this performance here, a bit of a surprise considering how worthy Jessica Chastain’s performance in Zero Dark Thirty was. I will say that this certainly was a wonderful job of acting by Lawrence, one which is hard-edged and vulnerable all at once with an underlying sexuality that isn’t like anything she’s ever done before. You could say that this was her debutante ball, going from girl to woman in one fell swoop. While I still think her Oscar win was an upset, I certainly can’t complain with Oscar’s choice. She was as good as anyone last year.

Cooper was a bit of a surprise as well. He’s shown some signs of having a serious actor in him but he mostly has played comedic leads and has done so with some success. This was a nuanced performance that caught every bit of his characters compulsions and anguish. Pat’s disorder is clearly in charge and finding the way to reality isn’t an easy path when all around is dark and there are no road signs to go by. It’s a marvelous performance and serves notice that Bradley Cooper isn’t just a leading man, he’s a skilled actor who can take on just any role he chooses. This just might be what makes both Cooper and Lawrence Hollywood A-list.

Depression and bipolar disorder are no laughing matters and while the writer and director treat them pretty much with respect (although there are some humorous situations that arise out of Pat and Tiffany’s condition, there are no more so than what arises in real life) there are those who have a difficult time watching the movie because it hits close to home. That’s something to consider before heading out to the multiplex or reasonably soon, rental source.

The first two thirds of the film is as good as anything you’ll see from 2012 although in the final act it breaks down somewhat and the ending is terribly predictable and unfortunate. Clever endings are hard to come by these days however and if Russell goes with tried and true, well I suppose he can be forgiven and the studio I’m sure was pretty happy with that decision.

I will say that this is a movie that you are aware of from the beginning is going to be thoughtful and award-worthy and that’s not necessarily a good thing. Some movies will sneak up on you and build and by the movie’s end you know you watched something special. I think that Russell was all too aware of the movie’s potential and you become aware of it as well. Great performances (including from tried and true veterans De Niro, Weaver and Stiles) elevate this from a solid movie to a very good movie. It missed greatness by about twenty minutes though.

REASONS TO GO: Great performances throughout. Really good chemistry between Cooper and Lawrence.

REASONS TO STAY: Keeps you a little too off-balance in places. Too Hollywood an ending.

FAMILY VALUES:  There is quite  a bit of foul language and some scenes involving sexuality and brief nudity.

TRIVIAL PURSUIT: The film was originally to be produced by Anthony Minghella and directed by Sydney Pollack before they both passed away in 2008; as it turned out the movie would be the first to get nominations in all five of the “Big 5” categories of the Oscars (Best Picture, Best Actor, Best Supporting Actor, Best Actress and Best Supporting Actress) since Million Dollar Baby in 2004.

CRITICAL MASS: As of 3/4/13: Rotten Tomatoes: 92% positive reviews. Metacritic: 81/100; the film received rave reviews.

COMPARISON SHOPPING: David and Lisa

FINAL RATING: 8/10

NEXT: Quartet

Barry Munday


Barry Munday

Is the football game on yet?

(2010) Comedy (Magnolia) Patrick Wilson, Judy Greer, Chloe Sevigny, Jean Smart, Cybill Shepherd, Missi Pyle, Shea Whigham, Malcolm McDowell, Billy Dee Williams, Barret Swatek, Christopher McDonald, Colin Hanks, Kyle Gass, Mae Whitman. Directed by Chris D’Arienzo

 

There is no shortage of guys out there who live for the conquest. You’ll find them in bars and clubs, trolling for potential one night stands, out to sleep with as many women as they possibly can with varying degrees of success. It’s how they define themselves. What happens when you are suddenly faced with having to redefine yourself?

Barry Mundy (Wilson) is one of those minor league Don Juans who seem to have that magic touch when it comes to scoring with the ladies. He has had plenty of sex without any consequence; but one of the girls he seduces comes complete with an angry father who administers the beating of a lifetime to Barry in a movie theater. When the smoke clears, Barry is missing some good buddies – his testicles.

Bitter, angry and feeling betrayed, he holes up at home, only to discover that he is being served with a paternity suit. The woman who is suing him, Ginger Farley (Greer) is a bitter, snarky woman who is about as unpleasant as a porcupine enema. For his part, Barry doesn’t remember sleeping with her. At first he wants to fight the suit but when he thinks about it he realizes this might well be the very last chance for him to leave anything genetic behind him, so he throws himself enthusiastically into the idea of being a dad.

The trouble is, Ginger isn’t so sure she wants Barry around and she makes it completely unpleasant for him to be around. She reluctantly introduces him to her family – her parents (McDowell, Shepherd) and her slutty stripper sister Jennifer (Sevigny) who takes an unhealthy interest in Barry. Still, Ginger is warming to Barry and he to her. Can they change enough to be good together and more importantly, good parents?

This is one of those indie movies which is going to seem very familiar to you if you’ve seen any indie movies in your time. Many of the characters have that familiar quirkiness to them that makes them endearing – the first twenty times around. By this point endearing indie quirkiness is annoying for the main part.

Patrick Wilson often plays the romantic rival and a lot of the characters he plays are real shmendricks. Here he plays a part we really haven’t seen him tackle much and he carries it off nicely. I haven’t seen many other parts of this sort come his way since; I hope some casting directors see this and consider him for more of these sorts of roles.

Judy Greer has also made a career for the most part out of the driver’s seat, often playing the wacky best friend. She is thoroughly unlikable through much of the movie which is risky; it’s hard to root for someone so bitchy but Greer pulls it off for the most part. She is definitely a fine comic actress but I suspect she’d do real well in the dramatic field as well.

While this is based on a novel, I couldn’t help but feel that the writers were occasionally unsure how to proceed. The movie flounders awkwardly in places although I can easily accept that life is all about floundering awkwardly. Still, when the movie seems to lose its focus it’s hard for the audience to maintain theirs. It’s a cardinal filmmaking sin. Fortunately the performances are such that the audience focuses on that rather than the story.

This is one of those movies that is elevated by the stars. Greer and Wilson aren’t known for carrying movies but they show they are well able to do it. I would really love to see the public discover them both in that sense. This movie isn’t necessarily the vehicle to get them there – it’s very flawed but it isn’t without merit despite the clichés  – but it’s certainly worth a look.

WHY RENT THIS: Wilson is surprisingly deft in a romantic comic lead. Greer boldly makes her character wholly unlikable.

WHY RENT SOMETHING ELSE: Too many indie clichés. Seems to be rudderless at times.

FAMILY VALUES: As you might imagine from the subject matter, there’s a good deal of sexual content and dialogue. The language is a bit foul in places.

TRIVIAL PURSUIT: Had its premiere at the 2010 South by Southwest Film Festival.

NOTABLE HOME VIDEO EXTRAS: There’s a gag reel and a faux PSA about the horrors of genital detachment.

BOX OFFICE PERFORMANCE: Not available.

COMPARISON SHOPPING: Percy

FINAL RATING: 7/10

NEXT: The Matrix Reloaded

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