…and the quest to see everything

Posts tagged “thriller

Guess We’re Living Like “Savages.”


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.

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Fox Thrillers: “Phone Booth”


It’s interesting to hear that Phone Booth‘s screenwriter is Larry Cohen, who was very active in the late 1960’s and 70’s as a TV writer because this movie thinks that it’s about the excitement that can only be found in that earlier era in New York City. Within its boulevards is Colin Farrell‘s character Stuart Shepard, a publicist/professional who wears expensive Italian designer suits but wears them two sizes too big so he still looks like he’s from the other boroughs. His Point A is Times Square, the most ideal place to make business calls while dragging some nerdy-looking assistant named Adam (Keith Nobbs) who’s unknowingly working for free. His Point B, across a strip club on Eighth Avenue, is where he calls Pam (Katie Holmes), using a phone booth so his wife Kelly (Radha Mitchell) won’t see a record of this courtship. But apparently they’re not the only two who know about this infidelity, as a sniping stranger (Kiefer Sutherland) threatens that if Stu hangs up or doesn’t obey the stranger’s orders, he will die. Then a confrontation happens where the stranger offers to shoot a man assaulting Stu, which the latter accepts, inadvertently making the prostitutes on the street as witnesses on the accusing him as the killer, getting the police’s attention (Forest Whitaker plays police negotiator Captain Ramey). And when both the women in his life come to the scene, the stranger threatens to kill them both.

There’s something lost in translation in its attempt to capture the metropolis’ vibrancy and the few New Yorkers who happen to be annoying, the little screens within a big one and turquoise cinematography making for an ugly aesthetic. The stranger’s purpose in kidnapping Stu is to make the latter confess his sins, having done this earlier to upper-class child molesters and real criminals. With this revelation Stu makes an appeal that he’s not as bad as the stranger’s other victims. I suppose the film is trying to make the point that like most people, Stu tries to justify their little, personal transgressions by telling themselves that their impact isn’t as large. And in confronting Stu’s situation, Farrell shows that he’s in his best when deconstructing the masculinity with which he’s built his stardom and makes way for his weeping, vulnerable self that he’ll bring in later projects like In Bruges. But by inflating his effect towards others it just makes me care less about his character.


Fox Thrillers: “One Hour Photo”


Director Mark Romanek and production designer Tom Foden bring their cool aesthetics to One Hour Photo. At first its backdrops, the empty, well-shelved halls of a fictional department store named SavMart and a whitewashed interrogation room where the movie begins and ends, also looks like matted comic strips instructing me what to do when a plane crashes. But the movie also has its share of warmly lit interiors that cinematographer for which Jeff Cronenweth will later be known, those palettes reserved for more private spaces.


One Hour Photo – Romanek also wrote the script – is about middle-aged loner Sy Parrish (Robin Williams), SavMart’s senior photo booth guy just before digital photography, among other things, threateningly sweeps his job away. He has an irrational infatuation with the Yorkin family, with its young and hip, credit card bourgeois parents and adorable son. Speaking as a customer service employee here, I either have indifference or superficial curiosity towards my patrons, which he narrates in a certain sequence. To be honest, there’s some attraction or ‘these people look really happy’ but I’ve never wanted to include myself as a part of my customer’s lives. In a way this movie is the most contemporary spin towards the upstairs/downstairs scenario, where the master and servant are more separate and their interaction is relegated to certain places within the community although despite this distance the help still knows your secrets. Sy’s latent job description is handling evidence of his customers as either competent parents or kinked up bores. But if I found out that one of my customers is cheating on his wife like Will Yorkin is (Michael Vartan), I wouldn’t be surprised. I’d be disappointed at the most. I understand that Sy might be protective of people he’s known for a long time (Connie Nielsen plays Yorkin’s wife) – he also gives the Yorkins discounts and free cameras like old timey store owners would – but a violent switch from love to contempt? Too much. And that the police takes too long to see Sy’s Yorkin collage – collages being a clichéd sign of a character’s insanity – was also ridiculously paced for melodramatic effect.

I also recently saw parts of Mrs. Doubtfire which, despite being a chilhood staple, is admittedly like an episode of “Keeping up with the Kardashians” where the protagonist (Williams) deliberately creates tension that he can undo so we have something to watch for two hours. Williams has lent his jovial, rambunctious self to both comedy and prestige stuff, but here he tones it down, his thin-lipped smile serving as a mask for what’s inside of Sy. He also adds benevolence to this creepy character. I keep rooting for Sy because first, of this yearning and perception of a purpose in life of someone like him and secondly, because I never bought all the aspects of his character for me to be fully creeped out by him anyway. There’s also this interesting ambivalence of the revelation he makes in the film’s last minutes, talking about people who would take naked, exploitative pictures of their children. The easiest way to read this is that he’s been that child, seeing that Sy has no onscreen contact with his real family and his stunted way of behaving and being. The second is that he’s co-opting other people’s pain and I’m not necessarily saying that in a bad way. As a photograph developer he says that he has to report kiddie porn when he sees it, and assuming that he’s seen his share of it I’d also understand if that eventually has gotten into him. This movie shows a small slice of these character’s lives, giving its audience enough possibilities to ponder where their suffering has begun.


Yes or No: MI – Ghostocol


Like other series in this blog “Yes or No” is ripped off Nathaniel. It also won’t last long because I just see the good and the bad within movies instead of seeing what switches the movie could have made. Brad Bird‘s Mission: Impossible – Ghost Protocol is one of those rare cases where the thing that can make the movie better is already within it, it just needs highlighting while pushing the boring parts out. With….

Yes: Action sequences. Especially the first two which are immaculate pieces of cinema, starting from when Agent Hanaway (Paul Gross lookalike Josh Holloway) almost gets away from the bad guys. Then we get to when our hero, Impossible Missions Force Agent Ethan Hunt (Tom Cruise), escapes from a Russian prison with the help of a few friends. I apologize for conflating them but they just have the same spirit.

These scenes have the greatest acting in the movie, from Lea Seydoux as Sabine Moreau – more about her later – to the goofy way Simon Pegg‘s IMF Agent Benji Dunn says ‘sorry,’ to Cruise actually pronouncing ‘Bogdan’ (Miraj Grbic) properly. It also took me days to realize that I was listening to Eminem, the perfect background music to Cruise punching out Russians of both hot shirtless prisoner or armed guard form.

It’s a surreal adrenaline pumping dream where there’s a tiger behind every door, or in this case an enemy behind every turn, back alley or hallway. These remind me of video game levels, Bird’s animation training translating so well in hyper-reality. If only he could have sustained this energy. Sure, that sandstorm was ballsy and visually ambitious but the movie hurriedly goes from one locale to another, making these changes feel forced.

No: Mikael Nyqvist as sadistic, apocalypse lover and nuclear warhead fetishist Hendricks. “For some reason, this $100 million tent pole movie couldn’t afford to hire Christoph Waltz. I’m underwritten, mostly silent and one note.”

Yes: It’s sad that Seydoux as Sabine is an afterthought in some of the criticism I’ve read. How else can a relatively unknown actress magically transform herself from an idealized young lover Midnight in Paris to a sashaying gunslinger in this movie? Sabine is an assassin getting paid with diamonds, which is a hilarious, borderline sexist stereotype by the way. But her reptilian yet graceful demeanour, the way she literally bears her teeth while exclaiming ‘Tuez-le!’ is what I look for in a beautiful yet scary woman If there’s anything I love, it’s an actress’ dedication to camp even in a secondary role.

No: Auteur-izing an actor here, but Jeremy Renner picks characters who obsessively follows esoteric, self-inflicted honour codes brought on by the post-traumatic, stressful, working class ‘modern’ masculine condition. His character, ‘analyst’ William Brandt, is one link more helpful in saving Ethan’s life in that thrilling Burj scene. But he’s so negative, nagging his teammates during missions and constantly picking fights with then. Is this who we want to spend two hours with in the new MI movies?

Yes: Instead of William, Agent Jane Carter (Paula Patton) seems more of a deserving heir for Ethan. Since she and Hanaway were an item, both she and Ethan are kindred spirits in the ‘I lost love for this job’ cliché. She also hides her pain during missions most of the time. And there’s also something about Patton’s performance as a woman in the field, never seeming vulnerable like the way other movies present women. Her bone structure doesn’t get in the way of her being occasionally worn down, not caring which angle makes her face look better.

This is especially true in the Mumbai scenes. Ignore that image where she bites a cherry so seductively that it’s cartoonish. It’s probably her biceps talking but it seems like she’s wearing her slit green dress like an athlete, revealing skin for a public appearance but she stops being that ‘feminine’ once she’s in a more private place.

Yes and SPOILER: Mrs. Julia Hunt (Michelle Monaghan). Monaghan is a great actress and a national treasure just like many actresses who broke out in the mid 2000’s and are now stuck within girlfriend roles and worse. I’ve spent most of this post praising this movie’s women. I think I’m straight. 3.5/5


Scene: Le Cercle Rouge


Jean-Pierre Melville slowly worked himself up to become a master of the cinematic frame in his heist films, culminating to Le Cercle Rouge where he attains a balance between the visual and the narrative. There are many memorable images here, like the police doing a search of rural grounds or leggy nightclub dancers but my favourite will be the one where we’re introduced to Yves Montand‘s character. A secret door opens in his bedroom and animals make their way to his bed, these reptiles and other creepy crawlies symbolic of something haunting this ex-police officer. It’s style and terror within the same scene, making its audience sweat. That or maybe I like that shade of blue.


Finally, a Drive Review. Ish.


‘I drive? for the movies?’ ‘Can you dance?’ It’s like Drive‘s star Ryan Gosling has a bit of an upward inflection like a New Yorker who moved to LA, the latter being the film’s setting. I didn’t buy him as a ex-Floridian in Blue Valentine and even if he doesn’t sound like he’s from ‘here,’ the accent isn’t a flaw and it’s actually cute.

This is a call to suggest music for me, trying to reinvent myself and my iPod because of the Drive soundtrack, especially this song because it’s ridiculous, especially in a part the begins in the minute and a half mark that they skip in the movie.

This song was playing during Standard’s (Oscar Isaac) ‘homecoming from prison’ scene. Standard is the Driver’s (Gosling) platonic-y love interest Irene’s (Carey Mulligan) husband, the two men reluctantly joining a heist that goes awry. Despite of myself and my knowledge of stereotypes that I shouldn’t write, I find it incredulous that a former jail-bird listens to electronic synth-pop. Maybe in other ‘New LA’ films but not these characters. Or maybe it’s director Nicolas Winding Refn re-imagining the scene with his own soundtrack à la Sofia Coppola’s Marie Antoinette or oh who cares.

[ETA: Sasha James doesn’t talk about this scene nor the music. Her post is kinder to the film, but I’m still not sure which one of us hates the movie more.]

Imagine Neil Marshall as the director (maybe), Hugh Jackman as the Driver (no), Jacinda Barrett as Blanche (maybe) and a Hispanic actress, say, Rosario Dawson as Irene (maybe). I write this because Mulligan’s chemistry with Gosling and Isaac was absent. We’ve seen Gosling fall magically in love with his co-stars and it’s strangely sad not to see it happen here.

Looking up selected songs from the soundtrack as well as its iMDb page, where I got the cast and crew turnover from, made me feel like I was subconsciously destroying or deconstructing the movie before I even watched it. But I also get the feeling that Refn was doing the same while making it.

Maybe I should embrace the artificiality or  seen the characters as anomic and dislocated, their bodies and voices clashing against the sounds of a desolate environment like characters in a Western. But it’s easier to rely on my reaction while experience the movie. Refn miscalculates the film’s mood and doesn’t let the characters on Hossein Amini‘s script grow. 2.5/5.


Post Halloween Post in a Box


I’ll spill my thoughts about the themes of Buried after Blackberry joke number 1. Three bars on a Blackberry lasts two hours? I can make my Nokia my slave with four bars and it will survive a whole day. 2. The fact that it took Paul Conroy (Ryan Reynolds) to remember how to change the settings in a Blackberry either shows how agitated he is or that he’s poor and stupid. 3. If his kidnapper is so upset about his family’s death-by-bombing, he should be buying things other than a Blackberry and glow sticks. 4. The movie photographs Reynolds in a way that we both see the brawny adult that he is now and the buck-tooth kid he was in middle school. 5. Happy All Saints Day! End snark.

ph. moviewallpapers.

Buried‘s plot and character background unfold in slow bursts the same way that our protagonist  learns and reveals information, while said information is further frustrated by the darkness that envelops him in the first few minutes and threatens throughout the rest of the film. He’s inside a wooden coffin. He finds a Blackberry set in Arabic. He tells the people he’s talking to that his name is Paul Conroy, his wife’s name is Linda (Samantha Mathis‘ voice), he’s a contracted truck driver for a fictional CRT, stationed in Baqaba, Iraq. He’s still stuck in a box.

The doodly title sequence in this film reminds me of the doodly title sequences in Almodovar films. Same graphic designer? This is the first Spanish comparison I will make in this post.

ph. OutNow

The second comparison is that like many Spanish films and Spanish horror/thriller films I’ve seen so far, Buried is also about an individual bravely challenging an undeserving authority figure yet is reliant and powerless against it. In his phone conversations, he yells and swears at his wife’s relative or friend. He calls his kidnapper a terrorist. The most interesting conversations he has is with a man from the state department. He accuses the man on the other side of the phone that the latter doesn’t care about him and makes many demands like asking to name one of the people the latter has rescued. Some have argued that Paul is a very entitled person, reminding the man from the State department that he’s an American citizen and of the urgency of his situation. He also expects his rescue to be quick, an expectation that goes hand in hand with an assumption that the department has more, better and quicker information and staff than he has. The man from the state department, in return, reminds Paul the irony that he’s also an individual with a different context and sets of information he has, just like everyone else Paul has talked to. The authority figures seem as limited in resources and capabilities, just like Paul.

The reason I bring this up is because the film touches on both claustrophobia and being buried alive, the subject inherently asking us the audience how would we behave in Paul’s situation. For some reason, already knowing the existence of this movie and the Tarantino-directed CSI episode, that I might be calmer, even more trusting than Paul. I know that freaking out and swearing at the outsourced customer service on the other side of a hotline isn’t gonna do me any good. I’m one of those people who will submissively take every passive aggressive comments or ‘we are doing everything we can to help your situation.’ It always takes me aback when somebody barks at people or does so consistently for two hours. However, I’ve never been stuck in a box.

Anyone’s opinion on the movie depends on what kind of ending they’ll like or accept in a film, whether he or she want realism or tragedy or relief. I’ll return to individualism and irony in the film’s final revelation, that the state department ends up finding someone else also buried alive whose name happens to be the one they give to Paul. His entity as an individual has been his fighting chance for others to rescue him, but the Iraqi leading the department to a ‘burial’ site has led them to the wrong American, despite his intentions. Both Paul, despite his cries for help, and the state department remember that there are others like him.