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Savages - 24/9/2012 12:44:16 PM   
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Savages - 24/9/2012 12:44:16 PM   
Dr Lenera


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Best friends Chon and Ben are successful marijuana growers living in Laguna Beach, California. Seeds smuggled out of Afghanistan yielded a particularly potent strain of marijuana that soon developed a wide customer base and made Chon and Ben very wealthy. The two share one woman, who calls herself O, as a girlfriend. While Ben is doing charity work overseas, Chon and O receive a video from cartel enforcer Lado, a man they do not know. The video shows several severed heads and a chainsaw, leading them to worry about Ben, who they fear is one of the victims. However, Ben returns safely the next day, and Chon and Ben go to meet with a Mexican cartel which is determined to force a business deal with them. After refusing the cartel’s offer for a partnership, Chon and Ben make plans with O to leave and go to Indonesia for a year, not telling her that they are fleeing the cartel, but the cartel’s leader Elena has other plans…..

Even if he has lost some of his edge and relevance in recent years, Oliver Stone’s films are always worth watching. Though certainly not anywhere near his best work, Savages is his most sheerly enjoyable picture in quite a while, yet it doesn’t seem to be getting a very good reception. Perhaps people prefer Stone in ‘worthy’ mode; this is Stone in his U Turn idiom, simply having fun. I feel that Stone has been undervalued since that time decades ago when he was churning out great movies like Salvador and Born On The Fourth Of July. His efforts remain noteworthy and Savages, a vicious tale of drug-dealing and deception, is a good reminder that Stone started his career writing scripts for pure exploitation films like The Hand. Savages doesn’t really try to say anything, except that dealing drugs big- time is going to lead to trouble, but it’s constantly involving to the point I didn’t really know what was going to happen next and it is also clearly made for adults. In a Hollywood plagued by an obsession to appeal to the ‘kids’, Stone makes films his way and hurrah to that.

I have read criticism to the effect that the lifestyle of our two ‘heroes’ is likeable in a way that is wrong, but I say “sod that”; the fact that we are clearly made to envy at least some of their lifestyle at the start of the film is a reminder that Stone himself is a committed dope smoker and this, in a way, could represent a kind of paradise, albeit a paradise that soon goes wrong. Though the film opens with a brutal execution, something that Chon and Ben see, the early section gives us a vivid sense of their [at the time] great life. O’s narration, which is a bit Sunset Boulevard-style, we don’t know if this is a dead or alive person who is telling us this story, takes us through brief flashbacks as we learn how Chon and Ben’s business came about. Unfortunately, this is all so interesting one might wish the entire first half of the film details this, with the second half telling of the ‘fall’. What really doesn’t work is that we are not shown how the ménage-a-trois came about. You could also say that about Butch Cassidy And The Sundance Kid, but they got away with it in that film because of the great performances of the leads which suggested history. In Savages, we are lumbered with Taylor Kitsch and Aaron Taylor-Johnson, and it’s not enough.

This is one of those films where you almost route for the villains, because the standard of acting is far higher than those of the good guys and you can’t wait for their next appearance. Benicio Del Toro, as the second in command Lado is simply terrifying in this film, he looks like he could go berserk at any time, and John Travolta is at his smug best as corrupt cop Dennis, but the revelation for me is Salma Hayek as Elena the head of the cartel. I’ve always admired her, but to be honest it’s mostly been for her looks and sexiness than her acting ability. Here, she delivers a very rounded performance, and she’s helped immensely by a script that gives almost everyone decent ‘scenes’ to enable them to convince as real people. Hayek has a great scene where she sits at a dinner table with O, whom she has kidnapped, and reveals things about herself that makes you want to pity this seemingly cruel, heartless woman.

Such stuff may disappoint those in search of simple thrills, and the action content is fairly low until the final third, but the tension is constant. One of things I like about Stone is that he directs films like a young man. From odd angles to bleached frames to black and white to time-lapse photography of a marijuana plant growing, Savages shows a filmmaker still totally in love with film. Sometimes he goes too far; one major action sequence is shot almost entirely in the horrid’ shakycam’ manner, but it’s only a two or three minutes scene and I was therefore able to tolerate it. I should also say that, even though Savages was edited for violence before release, it’s still a very brutal affair, from nasty kneecap shooting to graphic bullet head wounds to setting people on fire. When violence occurs in a Stone film, it’s not ironic or funny, it’s deadly serious, you’re not meant to ‘enjoy’ it, but in some way feel the pain and the effect. This approach may have cost Stone many fans, but it’s something I admire him for.

The story proceeds with plentiful intrigue but, as Chon and Ben get more and more knee-deep in shit and have to take action of their own, attempts to show how humans can resort to primal, well, savagery, are limited by both the performances and the depiction of the two main male characters. They seem to represent two sides of one personality and neither convince as real characters nor acknowledge a slight homoerotic element. Neither is Blake Lively a strong enough presence as O. I wish Stone had waited for his first choice Jennifer Lawrence to finish filming The Hunger Games. Then there’s the ending. Matters appear to climax with a Western-style showdown and the film ending in a way that seems right i.e. sadly, with a sense of Jacobean tragedy about it. Then, suddenly, the film rewinds and gives us what we are told is the ‘proper’ ending, which is happy and sunny and smells of Hollywood crap. Did the studio insist on this? Is Stone being clever and satirising expectations? Or could he just not decide how to end the damn thing? Whatever the reason, it ends what is overall a very underrated effort on a somewhat sour note.

The soundtrack is extremely diverse as it ranges from conventional score to pop songs but, typically for Stone, the music always seems to fit the scene in question. The set design is also clever throughout though of course this Universal horror fan couldn’t take his eyes off the wonderful posters of films like Frankenstein and The Phantom Of The Opera in Chon and Ben’s house. I don’t mean this as a slur against the film though. It really is a far better film than many would have you believe. With better characterised main roles, three decent performers in those roles, the removal of its final couple of minutes and perhaps ten minutes or so elsewhere, Savages could have been quite something. As it stands, Stone has nothing to be ashamed of here.

Rating: 7/10

< Message edited by Dr Lenera -- 24/9/2012 12:45:40 PM >

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Stoney Ground....... - 25/9/2012 6:24:28 PM   


Posts: 82
Joined: 5/10/2005
Not as bad as the Empire reviewer makes out, but certainly not a classic Oliver Stone film either, as it certainly drags its feet at times with some quite violent sequences too, and a lot of complicated plot twists thrown in, and a very interesting ending as well. Overall, I'm glad I saw it, sort of " Miami Vice meets Scarface, meets Reservior Dogs and Pulp Fiction " I suppose.......

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RE: Stoney Ground....... - 30/9/2012 7:38:22 AM   

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Joined: 3/4/2012

Based on yet another novel this story revolves around a trio of young adults that grow and sell their own cannabis. Their stuff is so damn good it attracts attention from bigger fish that want in, of course this equals friction, kidnapping and eventual death related problems. In short its a drug film involving cartels and much violence....oh yeah.

So what does Stone give us here? what can he offer that is refreshing and new? well not much as it happens. Its the same old story I'm afraid, been there, seen it, done it. Don't get me wrong, this film is well made in every aspect, acting is solid, visuals are eye catching and violence is nasty but the whole notion is just old.

This could of been made by either Scott brothers and utilized Denzel Washington easily, its that kind of flick. The visual style is a very common flavour in recent years but it does look swish as we get flashbacks that break up the plot continuity. Add to this the slick vicious sharp violence and the film does become more interesting (in a morbid way), not much violence but what there is is enough to satisfy.

The problem is the film is slooooooooow, oh so slow, it takes ages before anything fun happens and the plot gets moving. Until then we get constant narration from Lively telling us every little plot detail as if we're children. The other thing is most of the beginning plot is merely about drugs and how these hippy-like young adults sell/grow it...up until the kidnapping of course, but even then it trudges along like a hiker knee deep in snow.

The cast helps a lot of course, the main players here being the always excellent Del Toro and the always gorgeous Hayek. What does Del Toro do? guess...he can only be one thing in a drug cartel film right? yep...the sadistic enforcer. Hayek is the cartel boss and my god she looks good, dare I say even sexier than her impressive performance in 'From Dusk Till Dawn'? If you gotta be kidnapped then you can't go far wrong than being kidnapped by Hayek in this film or reality even!. Just a shame she doesn't really come across as a badass drug cartel kingpin, she's too nice to the hostage.

Other cast includes Travolta in a small role where he kinda does what he's done before in various action flicks, be a crooked smartass. The good guys are fine but nothing special, new action boy Taylor Kitsch finally seems to have landed with something semi decent. Blake Lively looks nice and gets screwed a lot, doesn't add much else.

A good film of sorts but terribly slow and sparse of action even though you get the impression there will be lots. Some good acting saves the day for sure but despite that and the nifty camera work Stone really misses a chance to muster up a cracking tense thriller. Kinda get the impression he's trying to copy the Scott brothers and maybe even have a go at Tarantino's throne but shoots wide of the mark...if only by a relatively small margin.

< Message edited by Phubbs -- 30/9/2012 7:40:42 AM >

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Too kind - 10/10/2012 9:00:42 PM   


Posts: 118
Joined: 19/5/2008
I really don't get rewievers praise for the suporting stars. Travolta is just quirky once-in-a-Tarantino-movie -Travolta. Hayek is like Salma Hayek in a Mexican soap opera. Del Toro is just a latin-Del Toro stereotype.

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Crap - 11/2/2013 9:22:16 AM   


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Joined: 9/11/2009
I watched this on a flight to Bangkok... I would have been more entertained staring at the duty free shopping list for 2 hours.

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- 25/2/2013 6:52:57 PM   


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Joined: 25/2/2013
Although this film was alright to watch, and was enjoyable to a certain extent, I felt very much that it thought too much of itself. It could of been a great movie about the complications of the job in tow, but I felt that the ending was very much over simplified, almost like it was thrown together with the realisation that everything that has come previously never really made much sense. O's narration was pretty much pointless as it didn't serve much for the narrative apart from being generally annoying in an attempt to idolise the 'beach-babe', weed-smoking lifestyle. The two alternate endings I felt were unnecessary, the first being much more thrillling and appropriate and upsetting for the audience to watch, the second being what I thought was a desperate attempt to reach a more commercial audience. Oh, and what was the point of John Travolta's character exactly? However, in spite of all this, Del Toro's performance is absolutely incredible, succesfully creating one of the most detestable characters that I've seen yet.

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"One day, maybe, we'll be back. For now, we live l... - 3/11/2013 11:13:29 AM   


Posts: 212
Joined: 19/10/2012
Chock full of abrupt violence and unexpected humor, Savages is a thoroughly enjoyable, somewhat surprising cinematic treat and, despite its flaws, is one of the best films Oliver Stone has made in some time.

< Message edited by movienut707 -- 3/11/2013 11:33:05 AM >

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