Adapted from Don Winslow’s acclaimed pulp novel of the same name, Savages’ occasionally changes from black and white to glaring, grainy 8mm-like colour, worrying me that it is as visually schizophrenic as his better movies. And I understand why Stone chose this reliable technique in depicting the ocean’s waves slapping the rocky shore and the character watching the waves, Ophelia or O (Blake Lively), the latter venerating closeups as the epitome of the blonde Californian bombshell.
O has the same amount of passport stamps, credit limit and invisibly rich parentage as Lively other famous character, Serena van der Woodsen, but she attempt on range by playing O, just like her characters in other movies, as trashy as she can. She narrates playfully, that quality mixed with what I assume are director Oliver Stone‘s notes telling her and the younger half of the cast that “You’re stoned. Tone it down a little!” which hampers whatever life they could have injected – oops, wrong drug! – into their characterizations. She is 33% of a business cooperative/bigamous arrangement that also includes Chon (Taylor Kitsch) and Ben (Aaron Johnson), all three of them based in Laguna Beach. The two men are similarly passionate with their weed business, O and sharing the same muscular body type.
But as O insists, they’re different and she needs their opposites as a guiding influence for her or something. Ben is a loving botanist, Chon is the no-nonsense payment collector. Chon thinks that Buddha is a ‘fat Chinese guy’ like every tenth grade drop-out does, Ben corrects him and practices Buddha’s teachings. And most importantly, Ben makes love in the spirit of mutuality, Chon fucks while he’s in some vampiric state.
Now here’s my question or set of questions – why is O tolerating this from Chon? Why is Chon having sex with her without eye contact? It’s the hair isn’t it, his buzz cut more aesthetically pleasing and less pungent than Ben’s annoying Rastafarian dreadlocks. Let me tell you, hair is not a good enough reason to have sex with a guy as if he’s some gay for pay prostitute having sex with a man twice his age and weight. And white guys with dreadlocks are the kind of men you avoid in a Bushwick party, but Johnson accomplishes a Samson-esque feat in making them look attractive. During and after sex O looks like she can never smoke enough weed for the pain on the inside part of her belly button piercing to stop. She proves nothing about her love for Chon or Ben for that matter other than her saying it. She should have just friend zoned the guy or at least admit that she sleeps with both of them to keep the peace instead of pretending that she actually loves them equally.
After Ben and Chon’s failed negotiations with Mexican drug lord middle management (Oscar nominee Demian Bichir) and a shopping mall scene that tries too hard to make Blake Lively seem like Danielle Darrieux, both call each other the titular savages, reminiscent of that musical segment in the Disney version of Pocahontas. The middle management’s boss, the Reina Elena (Oscar nominee Salma Hayek) decided to use a henchman named Lado (Oscar winner Benicio del Toro) to kidnap O.
This event becomes the turning point where some characters get more compelling. Elena has a daughter, Madgalena, who shares the same mall with O, but Magdalena rolls her eyes while talking to her on the phone while O actually wants to talk to her. She becomes maternal, while her amoral pragmatism calling O’s ‘needing my independence,’ lost rich free love white girl BS. She might make a better evil queen than Julia Roberts or Charlize Theron, playing Elena with enough camp to sustain the comparison to equally veteran actresses.
On the other hand, Ben and Chon use their differences to guide them. Chon has had tours of duty in Iraq and Afghanistan and uses that experience to help get O back from Elena’s cartel. Strangely, Chon speaks as if he is a jihadist instead of fighting them. Ben’s Eastern ethos loses to Chon’s urgings to become just like latter’s past and present enemies, and watching the former transform from altruist to criminal is seamless. But let’s look at it this way, this is a story burdening Elena with the onus to prove that she is compassionate while giving Ben and Chon as much leeway into ruthlessness. As if stooping down to her level is punishment enough for both.
This all adds up to a double standard but there’s something fascinating with these characterizations, or enough to latch on to, even if the ending comes too late and too terribly. John Travolta and Emile Hirsch also appear in supporting roles. 2.5/5.
- Chris Jancelewicz: Review: ‘Savages’ Overdoses On Itself (news.moviefone.ca)
From my childhood third world perspective, looking through a keyhole into the widely disseminated First World pop culture, sports were the furthest thing. But I have a sneaking suspicion, that Oliver Stone‘s portrayal of the public and private lives of a football team in Any Given Sunday feel inaccurately cartoonish. For the pats decade, there has been a different quarterbacks who would host SNL once every four years and another one who would announce his blindly conservative views. And mind my traces of nerdy, anti-jock prejudices but anyone who gets to college through a sports scholarship should never be in front of a microphone ever.
That said, I don’t remember the late 90’s with the memory of men Willie Beamen (Jamie Foxx). He starts out as a nervous last resort on this movie’s football team, the symbolically named Miami Sharks, replacing quarterback Jack ‘Cap’ Rooney (Dennis Quaid), the latter feeling varying degrees of pressure from his coach Tony D’Amato (Al Pacino) and his wife to play on, has taken it to himself to swallow his pride and make way for the new blood.
Then becoming its unlikely rising star, and it’s inevitable that this new fame, the fake friends that go with them and the endorsements get to his unprepared head. For some reason, he would be allowed to embarrass himself through a nationally broadcast sports channel and a rap music video. The movie also gives us access to his semi-private life, with his stupid crass boring ass parties and such. It was as if Stone was conflating that decade’s football stars with those in basketball, like actor Michael Jordan, rapper Shaquille O’Neal and model Lebron James. Beaman is the cringe-inducing manifestation of the black masculine ego, Stone’s inadvertent racial, gendered caricature. I’m not saying that this movie’s racist but if someone told me that it was, I wouldn’t object to his or her opinion.
Knowing that characters within the Sharks are less surprisingly coarse, what interests Stone are stories with trashy narcissists who have no business in becoming figureheads of America’s institutions, whether they be political, financial or athletic, but they end up doing so because of luck and some talent. Timing is important to them, entering these systems in dire times, and their presence within their new worlds make these institutions more precarious, the same way the Sharks’ standing within the NFL is vulnerable. Speaking of talent, I can’t fully discredit Stone’s anti-heroes or villains no matter what they do or how they get to the top, Clay Shaw is well-connected and an efficient taskmaster, Gordon Gekko knowing stocks at the back of his cranium. Of course after vomiting spells and surprisingly, Tony coaching, Beamen can magically pass the football to the other side.
It also helps to know who’s on scriptwriting duties. Helping Stone out is John Logan, responsible for the expanisve, ambitious, masculine and violent A-list vehicles like The Last Samurai, Sweeney Todd and the Oscar-winning Gladiator and Daniel Pyne, whose work in Fracture and the TV series “Miami Vice” bring equal amounts of flash and contemporary grit to this movie.
Back to Stone’s characters, if the ‘trashy’ character is a secondary protagonist like Beamen, there comes a more major character who has to make us less cynical and make us believe that the Sharks and football are holy institutions with integrity and rules. That’s what Tony is for. Pacino amazes here, as we can hear his vocal restraint even when he’s yelling at his players and calling them ‘an embarrassment.’ He has a good rapport with the other actors playing athletes, guiding these characters individually especially in times of need, like injuries, ego deficiencies and the like.
There’s also owner-by-nepotism Christina Pagliacci (Cameron Diaz). Both are conflictophiles, Tony and her respectively representing old and new ways of handling a sports team, both of them being right in their own ways. There’s a short yet innately caricature-like moment when Diaz is sitting on her desk, “Thinker” pose and all. She’s absent in chunks of the movie and neither is she perfect, especially in verbal clashing with a commanding presence like Pacino, but she’s aware of the pressures that faces her character.
Supporting cast includes Aaron Eckhart as an offensive coach impatiently waiting under Tony’s wing, Ann Margaret as Christina’s alcoholic, chagrined and emotionally abandoned mother Margaret and LL Cool J as an endorsement hungry player resentful, like everyone else, of Willie’s refusal to follow the playbook.
The rest of it I’m not a big fan of. Stone’s indulgent camerawork were effective in his earlier movies. He tries to use the same techniques to capture the game’s frenzy but it doesn’t work, especially with adding the aggressive, multi-genre popular music. Scenes of football games portrayed with pathetic fallacy, either with glaring, desert-evoking multiple spotlights or the rain and mud, either weather condition showing every anguished sinew of the athletes despite all that padding. That and the flashbacks were needlessly fetishistic. The more subtle the better. And of course, Charlton Heston appears some commissioner who says about Christine that ‘she’ll eat her young,’ reinforcing the movie’s xenophobic streak in thinking that a woman could be in power is if she’s evil. Please.
- Are You Ready For Some Football? (Oliver Stone Style) (moviesinpurgatory.com)
1960’s Louisiana District Attorney Garrison (Kevin Costner) gives one of his teammates the good old American finger and talk down. In a restaurant nonetheless, talking about issues of national gravity.
Atticus has a daughter, but what if he also has a wife (Sissy Spacek) and son? Director Oliver Stone calls JFK his The Godfather but I just brought up another comparison. Also, if this was a de Palma film, I’d be rolling my fucking eyes.
Saturday nights mean that channels compete for my attention and get me away from finishing things I need done. One channel had Martin Scorsese’s The Aviator, but nonetheless I chose a movie equally regarded as having a clown car of actors, JFK, which I caught at around the 25 minute mark. I’m probably not wrong in speculating about its reputation as ‘prestige Oscar bait,’ a label that seems weird for a film that gives a legitimate voice for what others consider a ‘tin foil hat’ way of thinking.
It’s one of those movies that make parts of me wish I was older, because the flourishes of colour between red and white should have only been experienced in theatres. But watching it at home is adequate I guess. I’ll probably have to watch Silence of the Lambs again, but unlike that film, this one is purely visual from start to finish. These switches symbolize Garrison’s awakening about the logical gaps within the Warren Commission’s report about the titular president’s assassination. The film uses different film stocks and resolutions, sometimes switching quickly from black and white to show when and where the different parts of the story happen. It’s like watching Bertolucci, as if light had its own weight.
He’s committing to the lion’s share of the research even if he has a growing and diverse team, discovering a plot involving Cubans, CIA agents covering as businessmen (Tommy Lee Jones arguably turns the clock back on gay people two decades at the most) and meddling generals.
The middle section holds a lot of the film’s flaws as it gives a few weak cast members their five minutes to shine and no, I’m not talking about John Candy, who acts as if he’s in a noir, which this movie arguably could be. But it breaks my heart to say that I wasn’t a big fan of Jack Lemmon here, that Kevin Bacon tries too hard in a bit part that Brad Pitt would have, pardon the tacky pun, executed effortlessly, that Donald Sutherland can’t pull off everything in his ‘Black Ops’ soliloquy or that Joe Pesci, despite on a good subtle start, seems to ruin all but one movie that he’s in with his overacting.
Despite of that, the movie has its victories despite the cynicism and nihilism that my generation’s attitudes have that goes against the Kennedys, violence and the film’s Arcadian view of 1963 America that the film mostly succeeds to push. That we have Southern characters who aren’t prejudiced against gays and other ‘minority groups.’ ‘That Garrison and his wife reconcile after Robert Kennedy’s assassination. Hey, it happens.
He has a rough start, sometimes going out-of-order. But Garrison eventually begins his arguments, showing the Zapruder tape (a chilling reenactment by and with Stone), the flaws and inaccuracies within the magic bullet theory (I’m pretty sure that, just like the rest of my generation, that I’ve seen the “Seinfeld” parody before the real thing) and Lee Harvey Oswald’s (Gary Oldman playing a regular person) time line and quoting Thoreau like demagogues do until we realize that this movie just made us listen to Kevin Costner for thirty straight minutes. I don’t mind, it’s relentless in a good way. Costner doesn’t change his tone for that half hour, only breaking down at the last few minutes. He instead lets the facts speak for themselves, thus giving a generous and altruistic performance. I’ve never loved him as an actor, but this last scene made me believe that the marquee should have his name back.
- Actor: Kevin Costner (americanthings.wordpress.com)