Monday, April 8, 2013

Carnage (2011)

Initially initially intrigued by the preview for Carnage, I didn’t bother getting my hands on the DVD. Can’t pinpoint why but it looked too smug, despite the quartet of heavy-hitters.


One recent day when I had a visitor, I gave her the choice of movies on hand (thanks Seattle Public Library): The Hedgehog, The Pillow Book and Carnage. After some debate (and a failed effort at watching Pillow Book), we rolled with Carnage.

The movie itself is much like a debate we can break down like this:

On one side of the room, Team A: Penelope (Jodie Foster), point guard and coach of the Longstreet family, married to Michael (John C. Reilly), power forward who (usually) takes direction well. Penelope’s a creative academic; he's a pragmatic, an everyday guy with an edge for scotch and humor. (The Foster-Reilly combo would never have occurred to me but they possessed a chemistry that grew on me.)

Enter Team B: Power-couple Nancy (Kate Winslet) and Alan (Christoph Waltz) Cowan. Even less of an imaginable pairing, but again, it worked. Alan’s cell phone rings incessantly and he always answers. Nancy is increasingly vexed by Alan’s ability to check out.

Their meet-and-greet is precipitated by a violent fight between their sons, the details of which hold the common thread—what happened, how bad was it and what are they going to do about it.

The discussion starts calmly in the Longstreet living room. We can resolve this reasonably, they tell themselves. As the afternoon progresses, we are spectators to an incredible doubles match. They couples quarrel, blame, switch sides, recriminate. There is drinking, crying, vomiting. Followed by more drinking and accusations.

Based on a French play God of Carnage (Le Dieu du carnage) by Yasmina Reza, the entire movie takes place in the Longstreet’s home. The dialogue is rich and keeps you at attention and disbelief as the escalations lead to fiasco. As alliances change, we ride the growing wave of suspense. Each character has his/her strengths to drive the eruptions and wit to the finale.

I loved it. The best part is that each time you think the Cowans are leaving, they don’t.

Director: Roman Polanski

Country: US

Genre: Comedy

Run time: 80 minutes

Scale: 4

Savages (2012)

It’s Oliver Stone. The setting: Laguna Beach, California. The colors are saturated. I can feel the splash of the water and the hot sand. There’s O (Blake Lively) and her boyfriends Chon (Taylor Kitsch) and Ben (Aaron Johnson) in a functional love triangle—the men are like brothers and she is lover to both.

Ben and Chon cultivate and sell one of the strongest pot strains in the world at 33 percent THC. This puts them in the crosshairs of the Tijuana cartel, who Savagesoffer/compel the two an 80-20 deal (in favor of the dudes) to go into business. Ben and Chon are happy making their lesser millions and refuse the deal. The cartel is relentless. Ben, the philanthropic one, suggests they give up the business. Afghanistan war vet Chon won’t agree, on principal alone. Cartel queen Elena (Salma Hayek) demands the guys be her worker bees.

The trio plan to scamper across the world and live quietly, leaving no breadcrumbs. Before they take action, the cartel with the help of a double-crossing DEA agent Dennis (John Travolta) kidnap O. Savages is the story of getting O back.

Sounds good? There are several problems. The story isn’t original. It goes on a convoluted path that takes eons to conclude. The ending isn’t bad but by that time, I was super annoyed with the whole lot. And, they are an impressive bunch: Benecio Del Toro as Lado, Hayak and Esteban Reyes (oh wait, that’s Demi├ín Bichir from Weeds playing the same character). I liked Hayak as the female helming the cartel. Savages heads in possibly redeeming directions a few times but they are red herrings, never going deep with any of the characters. You get fed what you should think of all of them and they end up puddle-deep and flawed in uninteresting ways. The story could have done better with O and Elena. It was ripe for transference and countertransference what with an ignored daughter and an ignored mother, respectively. Savages lacks tension. Considering the double crossing and guns, it makes little impact on the nerves. You know from the beginning that the trio will never betray one another. Albeit a unique and strong detail, it makes for lousy suspense.There’s narration by O’s character through the movie that didn’t work.

I didn’t hate it but I can’t say I liked it without stating the caveats. In the end, it got an extreme eye roll.

Director: Oliver Stone

Country: US

Genre: Drama

Run time: 130 minutes

Scale: 2.5