2012 Archives - Page 2 of 41 - Can't Stop the Movies
Can't Stop the Movies

Oliver Stone: Savages (2012)

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In Oliver Stone's latest, and to-date last, feature film Savages, he tackles the drug trade with his exuberant style.  O (Blake Lively), has been living and loving Chon (Taylor Kitsch) and Ben (Aaron Taylor-Johnson) since they returned with potent marijuana seeds and started a respectable empire.  A drug lord (Selma Hayek) makes their life hell after they refuse to join together and attracts the attention of a dirty DEA Agent (John Travolta).Role playingKyle Commentary BannerThe setup of Savages involves two friends, Chon and Ben, who run a phenomenally successful pot operation out of southern California while involved in a three-way relationship with O (played by Blake Lively), though for all the differences Taylor Kitsch and Aaron Taylor-Johnson's monotonous performances lend the two, she may as well be involved with one guy whose hairstyle changes rapidly and without warning. Since O is played as if a random selection of clips from the O.C. joined together and became a person via black magic, I considered the possibility that the men could each only handle half of the relationship, and that their arrangement was one of self-preservation. You know a movie that's trying to be provocative isn't working when you start checking your email during the sex scenes.

As the movie begins, a Mexican drug kingpin played by Selma Hayek is demanding to partner with Chon and Ben to expand her business in the States, and they refuse her offer, because they are witless morons. Setting into motion the events of the rest of the movie, Lively's character is kidnapped by Hayek's henchman (played as one of the few highlights of the movie by Benecio del Toro), and when that happened I cheered. Out loud. I cheered, alone in my living room, at my TV. I don't think that's the reaction Stone was going for.

Most of what makes Savages so bad, in fact, is the trio of performances at its center, the awfulness of which bafflingly grows stronger the more of them are on-screen together—it's like a talentless Voltron. The supporting roles by del Toro, John Travolta, and Selma Hayek are all far more interesting and well-played, and once the movie gets it's setup done there are a handful of scenes that generate at least some momentum solely because Stone finally gets Chon, Ben, and O off the screen for a few minutes. I especially liked a scene where Travolta's crooked FBI agent is visited at his suburban home by del Toro's slimy enforcer (whose loyalties shift by the minute), and the two negotiating multiple agreements all at once.

At times, Stone seems to want the movie to be a gritty crime tale where everyone is double, triple, and quadruple-crossing everyone else, and then at others he wants it to be a morality fable (complete with Lively's hilariously melodramatic updates on the story, delivered in a horrendous voice-over). Mostly he seems to want it to be a slick and shallow action movie, which is perhaps the strangest part. Benecio del Toro here especially deserves a better movie, Travolta deserves more screen time, and Blake Lively deserves to be in nothing ever again.

I hate Natural Born Killers, which I find unwatchable thanks to the style, but it has something it wants to say (even if we disagree on how substantial that thing is)—Savages is a bit less grating in its basic structure (a bit), but it has nothing to say, and it says nothing aggressively. It's bloated, over-directed, tone-deaf, and underwritten. It's like Bad Boys 2 without Michael Bay's delicate touch for style and humor.


The Guilt Trip (2012)

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Mama sometimes knows bestAndrew LIKE BannerI started off at war with myself watching The Guilt Trip.  First off, it stars Barbara Streisand, someone who I've tried to figure out why she's so famous but coming up short.  I admit that my overall exposure is low, but if she didn't win me over in Funny Girl or Prince of Tides then there stood little chance I'd love her.  Second, there's the matter of Seth Rogen.  I like him, he's done a lot of great work as the kind of mostly responsible nerd I've been friends with.  But he's repeatedly dipped into a well that doesn't fill-up very quickly and is starting to become the constant presence I'm annoyed with.

Expectations were low but I still wanted to have a good time watching the film.  In the face of all that I've either started to grow tired of or never understood I still liked this movie.  Yes, the plot is about as boilerplate as they come and the twists at times painful, but casting sometimes plays a big difference in quality.  Here I was able to see two performers doing what I thought was their standard schtick and when they came together are dynamite.


Promised Land (2012)

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Here's the dreamAndrew INDIFFERENCE BannerPromised Land is Gus Van Sant's comfortable return to a well-worn pair of pants.  It takes another two actors, in this case Matt Damon and John Krasinski, who wrote the screenplay together.  Tosses in a couple of elderly mentor types who both want to help, in the case of Frances McDormand, and teach, which is the niche Hal Holbrook fills.  There's the antagonistic could-be friend played by Krasinski, and a few inspiring speeches along with way.

Van Sant has already made this film three times.  At this point it's become a very polite game of Mad Libs instead of a personal mission statement.  All he has to do is throw in those described elements, leave onscreen for about an hour and a half, throw in some pleasing landscape shots and - voilà - instant harmless but pleasing film.  On its face this isn't a bad thing, but the results are so blandly pleasing that the director of arty experiments like Elephant and better pleasantries like Good Will Hunting should have other things to do.


The Impossible (2012)

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Another sign of a happy endingAndrew LIKE BannerA few months ago Ryan and I had a conversation about the trailer for The Impossible.  At first glance the film looked to be something that Ryan would barely be able to stomach and what I thought was just another round of horrific devastation interrupting an attractive white families vacation.  I still hold that the trailer gives this impression, but for the film itself I was as wrong as any critic can possibly be.

This is the survival story I have waited for.  There are no reassuring hugs or soaring strings with characters flashing pristine smiles despite the wreckage that surrounds them.  The Impossible is pure and brutal survival centering on a family that is tough and duplicitous enough to keep on.  It is one of the only honest movies about a true catastrophe that I have ever seen.  There is no easy escape and not even any bottled water if these characters manage to survive.


Hyde Park on Hudson (2012)

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Not so much an enigma as a silhouetteAndrew LIKE BannerOne of the problems I run into reviewing films on DVD is that I do not have the benefit of a clean-slate.  I can avoid reviews for the first couple of weeks or so, but after some time has passed a general critical consensus forms.  For better or naught, the mob will center around an opinion.  This isn't on its face a bad thing but it does make for a scattering of difficult to write reviews.

I didn't run into that issue with Hyde Park on Hudson.  For all the talks of misplaced humor and unnecessary sexual gratification I thoroughly enjoyed it.  This isn't for my standard reasons of appreciating a bit of the unfiltered delight onscreen but for humble reasons relating to our brief existence more than anything else.  Franklin Delano Roosevelt saw us through one of the two crises that threatened the fabric of our Union, and he was burden to that pressure the same as the rest of us.

It is, perhaps, this films' fate to be relegated to the sidelines because it refuses to cowtow to the sort of pompous nature that we seem to feel our greatest leaders deserve.  Lincoln, about our greatest President, suffered from that sense of self-importance more than any other film last year.  That was still a decent flick, but not one that picked at the core of any of the participants.  Hudson, by focusing on a much more intimate set of moments, works much better by making its characters seem alone and human.  There are some viewers who may not want their heroes to be that but, too bad, they die the same as the rest of us.