04 August, 2013

"More fuck-up than shoot out" sound about right. . .

I rented Savages because I was really in the mood to see some good, old fashioned brutal violence. I wasn't looking for intellectual stimulaiton or anything that would risk stirring my emotions. I just wanted to see some cartels-- OH MY GOD WHAT THE FUCK IS GOING ON WITH JON TRAVOLTA'S HEAD

Savages is a movie that doesn't know what it is supposed to be. On the one hand it seems to want to position itself as a kind of light, poppy caper and on the other hand it wants to be a movie about doing business with professional decapitators. These are two completely different tones and in this case the film makers have failed to mix them together properly. It's not pulpy enough to be fun and it isn't serious enough to hit you where it hurts. This is made worse by the fact that the high school, drug culture jerk-off fantasy works about as well as the gritty level narco-drama.

Traffic this ain't.

This poster is by far and away the coolest thing about the movie.
If there's a line that universally measures the tone and pitch of a movie, on the one end it would have The Hudsucker Proxy and on the other hand there is No Country for Old Men. If Savages had to fall somewhere near No Country for Old Men. Then it would do a pump fake, make a run for Hudsucker, then trip right before it got to comedy, but then doubled-back, lost its nerve ten yards short of the goal line, and then have a seizure. At that point you wouldn't be able to figure out if this is serious and you should get help or if it's just part of the movie or if you should care at all.

Anyways, the point is that the Coen Brothers are very good at directing different kinds of movies and they're very good at mixing things together in a way that feels both new and, somehow, classic. They have a wide range of interests and skills and even when they stumble with a movie like Burn After Reading, at least it's interesting. At least they're swinging for the fences.  At least they have a clue what they're doing.

Other movies I should have watched instead include: Days of Heaven, The Sand Pebbles, and Lolita.
Then the movie references the ultimate version of this film, Butch Cassidy and the Sundance Kid, which is a reference that only serves to remind you of a much better film.Envoke a superior film at ye peril. I mean, Prometheus does this, a movie with some profound problems, but it only illicits the memory of Lawrence of Arabia, a movie that is so completely different from Prometheus that it almost (almost) doesn't matter. Then again maybe Oliver Stone thinks that kids today don't know what Butch Cassidy and the Sundance Kid is and he thinks he's showing off. He seems to think that's the case with Iraq.

Butch Cassidy et al. is the exact sort of film that you shouldn't bring up in your film. Ever. Especially when what you're doing is a lesser version of the film you're quoting. Butch Cassidy and the Sundance Kid is the movie that Savages wishes it was. We all know and love that movie.  It's a movie with an incredible lightness of touch. With the exception of the bicycle scene, it never brings you out of the world it has set-up. It is one of the great pieces of cinema and even forty years later, it still feels and fresh and original as it ever did.

The problem is that Oliver Stone has the lightness of touch of a gorilla that has recently discovered needle drugs. He can't combine comedy and action or grit and froth. It's not what he does. Subtlety is not one of his strong suits. He's a director that goes loud and in one direction. For better or for worse that is what he does. Except that with Savages, the direction he has gone in is a grandpa trying to understand what Justin Bieber is and why she has a Twitter.

Besides Stone's disconnect with classic films, he doesn't seem to understand the modern world, either.
There's just something that uncompelling and sad about a famous leftist filmmaker trying to a movie about contemporary issues, especially when you consider the things he seems to be commenting on were old news five years ago. I mean, for fuck's sake, he's got a scene that involves Mexican gangsters watching The Hills.

Then the movie also throws in a rape for no reason and it has an ending that revolves around multiple suicides (that really isn't a spoiler). For those keeping track at home, rape and suicide are just about the laziest thing a writer can do to give a story weight. Then there's the fact that it is just plain leery.

If you want to write about rape and/or suicide, let me give you some advice: Don't. Please.

BEHOLD! The face of evil!
The most compelling thing about the movie is its view on evil. It doesn't exist as a preening Scarface-type. Instead, evil presents itself as either in a workman-like manner (as in Benecio Del Toro's character) or in the form of Salam Hayak's evil Anna Wintour. The movies view is that despite all of the drugs and the exoticism still bases its villains in a world that is incredibly mundane. They worry about their family and getting their job done and keeping their world together. They aren't out to hit the city with Joker gas or make a Bond villain speech in the war room. Sure it's a real world three or four steps removed from the realities of Mexico's current war on drugs, but it is one familiar to Americans.

It's odd, because Del Toro's character seems like he might exist somewhere on the planet Earth, which is something that cannot be said about anyone or anything else in this movie.

Then again, it goes out of its way to set our white boy drug dealers as real nice guys. They're positioned as a combination of Robin Hood and Bob Marley. Sure, they're drug dealers, but they're good guys, so it's okay to like them! I don't want to like them. What I want is to see a good movie. Do you ever think that Billy Wilder ever worried about whether somebody was going to like one of his charaters? Or John Huston? Or anyone who knows what they're doing? What a waste of energy. If they're worth liking, the audience will like them, they don't need to be told that they're good guys first. The same goes for the bad guys. That's what works the best in the movie: The bad things.

Over a thousand words and I didn't mention these fucking dreads once.
OTHER OBSERVATIONS:

*Blake Lively is a great set of skin and hair and not much else.

*"No, waiter, I'm sorry, I ordered the Hollywood Movie Star, this is Taylor Kitsch. Please send it back."

*I really want to watch Way of the Gun right now. Wash the taste of this Savages out of my mouth. Also, that is another movie that quotes Butch Cassidy and the Sundance Kid that isn't completely overshadowed by it.

*The word isn't "IED," the word is "bomb." All bombs are improvised. We've been using that word for a long time and nobody ever got confused as to what a bomb was. We were doing just fine without a goofy acronym. Further more, what kind of a fucking Navy SEAL says "We'll set up a few IEDs?" No Navy SEAL, that's who. Actually, no human. Even terrorists or insurgents wouldn't use the phrase "IED" while planting an IED.

*Nobody seems to live in any of the houses in this movie. I have never seen 20-something stoner's love den that well kept. I've seen model houses that are bigger messes than the places in this movie.

*A coked up lawyer making sushi at home? Does Oliver Stone think it's still 1985? Does he have that thing Liz Lemon's brother has?

*"There's a reason it's called a highjacking." Fuck you.

*"I get orgasms, he gets wargasms." Fuck you.

*"Every business has an origin story." Fuck you. EVERYTHING has an origin story. That is a nothing statement.

*"Just because I'm telling you this story, that I'm alive at the end. Yeah. It's that kind of a story." Fuck you. What does that even mean? Alright. I'm calm. Now imagine an alternate world where William Holden was forced to say that and now feel bad for everything in the world.

*"My ex-wife used to call me 'Sushi.' Cold fish." Fuck y-- Oh, wait, wrong monologue.

*"Savages." Fuck you to Hell.