Cinema Review: Savages

DIR: Oliver Stone • WRI: Oliver Stone, Don Winslow, Shane Salerno • PRO: Mortiz Borman, Eric Copeloff • DOP: Daniel Mindel • ED: Joe Husting • Cast: Taylor Kitsch, Aaron Johnson, Blake Lively, Benicio Del Toro, Salma Hayek, John Travolta

Oliver Stone is known for making pulpy crime thrillers that focus on the American experience, drugs and casual violence. With Savages, Stone is not only working with familiar material, he’s also trying to update it for a new, young audience. However, he misses the inherent quality of his original work and instead makes something entirely different. Aaron Johnson and Taylor Kitsch play two cannabis growers from Laguna Beach, California. Taylor Kitsch is an ex-soldier who runs the heavier, more dangerous side of the business whilst Aaron Johnson looks after the botanical and legitimate side. Between them is Blake Lively, a young, pampered woman who maintains a polygamous relationship with both. They keep the authorities on side by regularly bribing DEA agent John Travolta and maintain a peaceful status quo. Everything is beautiful for the free spirits until Benicio Del Toro and Salma Hayek want to move in on their territory. What begins as a violent show of force soon deteriorates into a hostage situation when Kitsch / Johnson’s love interest is taken captive.

Taylor Kitsch and Aaron Johnson’s characters are, as often mentioned in the film, two parts of a whole person. Where Kitsch is angry and vengeful, Johnson is more conciliatory and pliable. This means, however, they’re not fully-rounded characters. Both seem to have one speed throughout and makes their performances flat and repetitive. Blake Lively, aside from The Town, has yet to give a performance that sets her apart. This is no different. The real stars of Savages are Benicio Del Toro’s flamboyant psychopath and Salma Hayek’s domineering cartel boss. Del Toro twiddles his signature moustache and growls with a thick Mexican accent throughout that makes him the most entertaining person to watch. Likewise, Salma Hayek plays a villainous, controlling gangster so well that it’s hard to believe she hasn’t been played similar before.
Oliver Stone’s direction and photographic choices harken back to Natural Born Killers and JFK, fusing black-and-white with oversaturated colours to make a landscape that is his own. While this may have come across as inventive ten years ago, now it looks jarring and confusing. It’s not that it’s hard to follow the action, it’s the sharp contrast between styles – varying wildly between grungy handheld to sweeping panoramic shots. As well as this, the film’s script is also all over the place. It’s fairly evident that the screenplay had many hands work on it as it’s completely disjointed – just like the entire film. Here and there, the dialogue spouts Buddhist mantras and Dalai Lama teachings that make it sound like rejected lines from Point Break. Mixed with this is Kitsch’s faux-military speak during action sequences and  John Travolta’s fast-talking DEA agent’s pleading for mercy when things go awry. Overall, Savages is an uneven but decent attempt by Oliver Stone to update himself for the new age. The film’s disjointed pacing breaks up the flow and ends with an unsatisfying twist. If the script had been given over to one person instead of being put through three, it may have gone some way to being more cohesive.


Cinema Review: Puss in Boots


DIR: Chris Miller • WRI: Tom Wheeler • PRO: Joe M. Aguilar, Latifa Ouaou • ED: Eric Dapkewicz • DES: Guillaume Aretos• CAST: Antonio Banderas, Salma Hayek, Zach Galifianakis

Swiping the series out from under the noses of Shrek and Donkey, Puss In Boots was a charming, adorable secondary character in the waning (yet still box-office record breaking) series, but is putting him front-and-centre a terrible, Evan Almighty-esque idea? For the most part, no. But as with all things in life, too much of a good thing…

The best thing about Puss In Boots, besides Antonio Banderas’ perfect, breathy voice work, was that he just was. There was no explanation necessary, but this spin-off is working as something of an origin story, giving the furry one an unnecessary backstory. But with the entire thing coming in at under 90 minutes, the boring parts never stick around for long, and it’s not long before Puss in tied up in a scheme to steal some magic beans from Jack (Billy Bob Thornton) and Jill (Amy Sedaris) with the help of love interest/larceny rival Kitty SoftPaws (Salma Hayek) and ex-best friend Humpty Alexander Dumpty (Zack Galifiankis).

Despite coming from the writers and director of Shrek The Third (by far the worst in the series), executive producer Guillermo Del Toro has his prints all over the movie, from the genuine latin flavour to the genuinely scary scenes involving The Great Terror at the top of the beanstalk. Even though they shared no actual scenes together, Banderas and Hayek’s cinematic history and natural chemistry bring real spark to the screen, and Galifiankis has a blast as the is-he-isn’t-he-the-villain role.

There are enough jokes in here to keep accompanying adults entertained, and the young ‘uns will gasp and squeal at the rare occasion of well used 3D, but putting Puss in the lead has left the gap for a scene-stealing secondary character, which this movie is sorely lacking. Aside from that one cat who goes ‘Oooooooooohhhh…..’ He’s awesome. Give that cat a movie!

Rory Cashin

Rated G (see IFCO website for details)
Puss in Boots is released on 9th December 2011

Puss in Boots – Official Website


Cirque Du Freak: The Vampire’s Assistant

Cirque Du Freak: The Vampire’s Assistant
DIR: Paul Weitz • WRI: Paul Weitz, Brian Helgeland • PRO: Ewan Leslie, Lauren Shuler Donner • DOP: J. Michael Muro • ED: Leslie Jones • DES: William Arnold • CAST: Chris Massoglia, John C. Reilly, Ken Watanabe, Salma Hayek

Cirque Du Freak: The Vampire’s Assistant offers a refreshingly original take on the vampire mythos while providing an entertaining platform for a somewhat unpolished teen-movie. With a wealth of imagination and stars, it comes as no surprise that director Paul Weitz’s latest project is an agreeable, if forgettable, venture.

The cast is monstrous, yet lead Chris Massoglia gives a disappointingly wooden performance. This is not the drain on the film one might expect due wholly to John C. Reilly. The only flaw in the latter’s performance is the fact that the man screams comedy: from his ridiculous hair to his doughy features. Thus, convincing viewers he is a disillusioned Vampire General is a difficult feat, executed flawlessly. There are sniffs of his usual wit, which enrich the character, making Reilly the film’s life-blood.

The support cast, studded with considerable names, give solid, believable performances that expand the thrust and atmosphere of the film. Notably, Ken Watanabe’s Mr Tall proves that despite ridiculous roles, the man acts with such presence and magnetism, that he benefits any project enormously.

The narrative, whether faithful or not, certainly ticks all the boxes for an original teen-movie to seek one’s teeth into. Themes such as: freak circus, raging teenage angst, bubbling conflicts between vampires and the inexplicably named Vampaneze, and (albeit diluted) messages regarding tolerance make for an imaginative 108 minutes. Not all the pieces stitch together, though the effort and detail in the explanation of vampires, their feeding habits, biology etc. is commendable. The story tries something new while anchoring itself to relatively human experiences.

Regrettably, the pacing is jarred. The opening over-establishes Darren’s typical sub-urban lifestyle. This isn’t an aspect viewers struggle with and should have been cut. The middle would have benefited from additional exposition but suffered from patchy tempo. Any trace of swelling crescendo was eerily absent as the film struggles to flesh out its content into its timeslot. This seems a common hurdle for literary adaptations, but vivid themes suffer due to excessive elaboration of mundane aspects: a balancing act Cirque Du Freak… botches.

Similarly, creature effects were hit and miss. Make-up, design and costumes fashioned a supernatural atmosphere, specifically the titular Cirque: the freaks mainly looked…freaky. However, some characters were blatantly CG, which diminishes the experience. Still, Cirque Du Freak… nails down the important, unnatural elements memorably. The sets, much of which get torn apart, seem realistic, although occasional smashed polystyrene gravestones spoil the show.

Unfortunately the illusion suffers via the ‘flicker’ effect. Contrived and heavily CGI, the distortion of fantastically speedy creatures looks like paint splodges on screen. As the film’s most dominant glamour, it’s peculiar the director chose to stake a claim with this unpolished effect.

Cirque Du Freak… will come under criticism for simply being a teen-fantasy adventure that is not a Harry Potter film. However, put that aside and indulge an open mind for two hours, and you will find Cirque Du Freak… an original and unique take on a rich genre.

Jack McGlynn

Jack McGlynn
(See biog here)

Rated 12A (see IFCO website for details)
Cirque Du Freak: The Vampire’s Assistant
is released on 23 Oct 2009

Cirque Du Freak: The Vampire’s Assistant – Official Website