Thursday, December 27, 2012

Savage Men in Oslo

     Today we will be providing DVD reviews of a dark Norwegian drama, a twisted little thriller involving drug cartels, and a threequel whose returns are only modestly diminishing.  Might as well start with...

  Savages - For the benefit of those of you a little younger than me, let me tell you about Oliver Stone.  In 1986, he burst into the limelight with first Salvadore (which received two Oscar nods) and then Platoon (which racked up eight nominations, winning four, including Picture and Director).  For the next thirteen years he would remain one of the most influential (and often controversial) American directors producing a string of  BIG movies including Wall Street, Born On The Fourth of July, The Doors, JFK, Natural Born Killers, Nixon, and Any Given Sunday.
     In the twenty first century, Stone has been less prolific, and focused his efforts largely on documentaries.  He has also gradually backed away from screenwriting, directing the scripts of others.  So far, the results have been less impressive than his earlier works (Wall Street 2 anyone?), but Savages does show some signs of a gradual return to form.
     It is hobbled, to some extent, by two of its leading performances.  Taylor Kitsch, who appeared earlier this year in both Battleship and John Carter, does not appear to benefit much from having better material to work with.  Aaron Taylor-Johnson, conversely, showed great promise in films like Nowhere Boy and Kick-Ass, but is not having his best year (Anna Karenina review coming soon).  In fact, the veteran supporting cast in this film mostly outshines the main characters.  The exception to this trend is Blake Lively.  The young actress best known as Serena on television's Gossip Girl flounders a tiny bit in the early scenes with the boys, but begins to really shine once she has more experienced cast mates to interact with.  Her and Salma Hayak, in particular, bring out the best in each other.
     In Stone's heyday he was a star maker, opening doors for everyone from Jamie Foxx to Woody Harrelson.  I think he may have done it again this time with Ms. Hayek.  The forty-six year old actress spent much of her early career playing "pretty girl with accent" roles.  Here she is the villain, and she nails it.  She is actually scarier than Benicio del Toro (who is great as a heavy, but we've seen him do it before), which I would not have expected at all.  It is also worth noting that this is, in my opinion, John Travolta's best work since Pulp Fiction.  He really vanishes into his character in this.  Demien Bechir does as well, but then, I've never seen him not do so.
     All in all, I feel that Savages is a little under rated and it is a shame Salma Hayek is not a serious part of this year's Best Supporting Actress discussion.  The film would be worth watching for her performance alone.  4 of 5 stars.

  Oslo, August 31rst - This is the second feature for Norwegian film maker/lead actor team Joachim Trier
and Anders Danielsen Lie.  The first film they made together, Reprise, won international acclaim including a Best First Film award from the New York Film Critics Circle.  Unfortunately, I have not seen it.  Based upon Oslo, August 31rst, however, it now goes on the (admittedly long) list of films I MUST get around to soon.
     "Oslo" tells the story of a recovering drug addict as he makes his first steps back out into the world after rehab.  We follow him as he takes stock of his life and personal connections, trying to imagine a future for himself.  It is a highly moving film, that is told with a real tragic beauty.  Lie's performance is easily one of my favorite Lead Actor turns of the year so far.  The supporting cast, though quite strong, are tangential by comparison.  He IS the film.
     Be warned, however, this film is bleak.  If you watched Shame last year on my recommendation and were depressed for days, this might not be your thing.  Otherwise, I strongly suggest checking it out.  4 1/2 of 5 stars.

  Men in Black 3 - I have never been a big fan of this franchise, but a friend offered to loan me this film, and it HAS been getting some Best Make-Up and Hairstyling buzz, so I decided to check it out.  It wasn't bad for a sci-fi/comedy threequel.  I've certainly seen the quality of franchises diminish MORE quickly.  If you were a huge fan of the previous installments, I'm sure that you will enjoy this one too.
     While I did miss Frank the Pug, his absence was made up for by the inclusion of Josh Brolin as the young Agent K.  I'm not going to say that he did Tommy Lee Jones as well as Levitt did Willis in Looper, but it was actually pretty darn close.  The make-up (which IS impressive) helps, but the mannerisms and vocal patterns were spot on.
     I can't exactly say that I'm anxious for a Men In Black 4, but part three was certainly watchable enough.  If this sort of thing is your cup of tea, I won't dissuade you from checking it out.  3 of 5 stars.
Related Articles:  John's Woman in Wrath (John Carter review), December Oscar Buzz and Predictions - Pretty People Techs (covering Best Make-Up), Twist Until You Are Loopey! (Looper review)

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