The basic premise of most crime revenge dramas is how much of our humanity we're willing to trade to get back what the other people — the ostensible baddies — have taken from us. Oliver Stone returns to this familiar stomping ground with Savages a splashy adaptation of Don Winslow's novel about a unique love affair a major marijuana-dealing business and an increasingly violent pissing match between two SoCal growers and the Baja Cartel.
Stone's frenetic visual style is in full swing but even this Oscar-winning auteur can't quite raise the film from mediocrity. It's hard to care whether or not Ben (Aaron Johnson) and Chon (Taylor Kitsch) rescue their gorgeous mutual girlfriend O (Blake Lively) from the cartel if O isn't engaging enough to persuade us she's worth the bloodshed. O (short for Ophelia — an allusion to her earthshaking climaxes) is not a well-written character to begin with but she's even less engaging as played by Lively. Johnson is unconvincing as the bleeding heart Ben and the details his character is given — extra earrings a shoddy-looking tattoo on his neck even white boy dreads at one point — undercut his believability even more. Kitsch is given a few prominent scars and a mean squint but he doesn't quite bring the weird slightly empty vibe of Chon to life.
On the villain side Benicio Del Toro chews every inch of scenery from Laguna Beach to Tijuana as Lado. He's rocking an intense moustache that he strokes when he's lying or being a creep (which is most of the time) a vaguely mullet-like wig and a fondness for torture. Salma Hayek takes no prisoners as the head of the cartel nicknamed Elena la Reina who is both a frustrated mom whose college-age daughter is blowing her off (aw!) and a brutally tough woman in a man's world. John Travolta definitely enjoys a bit of Pulp Fiction ridiculousness as Dennis a DEA official who's in Ben and Chon's pocket. It's hard to tell just how funny Savages is aiming to be. Lado Elena and Dennis are cartoonish but Ben Chon and O are earnest — which is to say a little bit boring.
The double- and triple-crossing is practically moot as is the wacky technology that Ben and Chon employ; it's like The Social Network meets surfers. The real meat of the movie is the flash and violence but it's not the kind of thing that stays with you like Stone's Natural Born Killers. Savages doesn't have the same lingering aftertaste. It's not that a movie needs to have some sort of message with its pointed commentary on the media's bloodlust but the gist of Savages — that we're all savages at heart or that we can easily become a savage given the right circumstances — is not that interesting or unique.
Oddly enough Savages pulls a few punches when it comes to its source material (hard to believe when the movie kicks off with a glimpse of an abattoir-like enclosure and close-ups of men begging for their lives just as a chainsaw revs in the background). Winslow's book is a quick enjoyable read with an interesting on-page style that's hard to replicate verbally. It has a sort of ADD-addled feel that the movie tries to but doesn't quite capture. While it's not always fair to compare an adaptation to the book it's based on Winslow is both the author and one of the screenplay writers so some of the choices made behind the scenes don't quite add up. Cut are significant and menacing back story for Lado and all of the zestiness out of O. Why add in certain plot points and take out others unless it was to give one of its big name stars more screen time? The most interesting part of the story the love story is treated like a wink wink homoerotic thing than an actual relationship between three people who adore each other which is how it's portrayed in the book. It's hard not to be a little disappointed especially given Stone's no-f**ks-given attitude. (Or as O would say baditude.)
That said it is a somewhat entertaining diversion and a nice tour of lifestyles of the rich and criminal. Lively is all tangled tan limbs and luxurious hippie clothes and the homes they frequent whether on Laguna Beach or a desert compound are meticulously decorated with exquisite expensive taste. Santa Muerte imagery also figures heavily in the background of many scenes. The scenery is gorgeous — even the marijuana looks amazing. It's good for adults to have another R-rated choice in what's usually a season dominated by blockbusters but in years to come you'll more likely to reach for your old True Romance DVD than Savages.
S2:E10 I’ve sort of been beating a dead horse at this point, but yes, Glee has lost some of the sparkle from its first season. Even so, this week’s episode, “A Very Glee Christmas,” was cheery and joyous, despite being a bit contrived (i.e. Artie’s miraculous robot apparatus that somehow allows him to walk and the mysterious mega-funds that Coach Bieste used to buy it for him) and inconsistent at times. By the end of the episode, we’ve got Brittany and Sue playing out a Glee version of How the Grinch Stole Christmas, yet for the first half hour of the show, it’s got more of a variety show feel – clumsily plopping our favorite Christmas songs into the plot for the sake of having them. I will say, however, that the song choices were excellent and that once they started singing the holiday spirit temporarily overtook my judgmental side. And in continuing that spirit of Christmas, I solemnly swear to do my best to remain as positive as possible about the elements of what is by far the cheeriest episode of the season.
Once again, the episode opens with Schue and Emma’s relationship issues. He’s spending Christmas alone and she’s inviting him to a big Christmas party she is hosting with her new husband. It’s this moment that he decides to tell Emma they should take a break from being friends. While Schue isn’t nearly as lovable as he was last season, you’d have to be heartless to not feel terrible for the poor schmuck. Luckily the sadness is interrupted by Bieste’s Secret Santa drawing and of course, Schue gets Sue. Did anyone doubt that he’d get Sue? Of course, we know that everyone eventually ends up drawing Sue as a part of her ploy to reclaim her childhood by forcing the entire faculty to get her Christmas presents. If it wasn’t completely the opposite of the idea behind Christmas, I’d have to give her props on her evil scheme.
On the other side of the spectrum, Brittany still believes in Christmas. As ridiculous as it sounds, it’s really not that surprising and it’s one of the reasons Brittany is such a wonderful character. Yes, she’s campy, but if you’re watching this show, you have to admit that you kind of signed up for it at this point. Brittany’s childlike wonder in the face of the clear lack of Christmas spirit throughout the school – although I will give the football players props for coordinating their festive slushie attacks in green and red – inspires the sweet and protective Artie to try everything he can to make sure his girlfriend doesn’t lose her belief in the man with the bag.
The first song of the episode comes without warning and a little awkwardly, but it’s a rendition of “The Island of Misfit Toys” from Burl Ives’ stop-motion classic, Rudolph The Red-Nosed Reindeer.
The song fits into the plot as the glee club decorates the choir room with discarded Christmas trees and ornaments in an attempt to cheer themselves up. Like the misfit toys in Rudolph, the gleeks are still the misfits on campus (thus the red and green slushie attack). Schue isn’t allowing them to feel sorry for themselves, so he insists they go “full Santa” and sing carols around the school to raise money for charity. This of course leads right into the next Christmas song as the club tries to spread cheer for charity but the scrooges of William McKinley would “seriously rather be learning” than hear them sing. And enter the giant metaphor for the season – all you scrooges out there should just relax and get into the holiday spirit like the glee club. Despite the message, they’re run out of the classroom – and the teacher even helps run them off by throwing a shoe. What is wrong with the non-gleeks at this school?
In the wake of the caroling disaster, Brittany assures the club that everything will be fine because she asked Santa to make the glee club cool – and Santa can do anything. As everyone gasps, Artie puts his Christmas magic preservation mission into action. Mostly in entails the entire glee club going to see a mall Santa and pretending that they all still believe in him. Artie really is the best boyfriend ever – are you seeing all this, Tina? The entire club submits to his plan, and explains away the fact that Brittany will believe anyone in the suit is Santa because she still wants to believe (which allows for Sue and Bieste to both successfully masquerade as Santa later in the episode). I love that even with all this sugary sweetness, they still manage to instill some snark; she may have childlike wonder, but Brittany’s also not sure about the difference between slaves and elves. And blammo, there’s my favorite classic Brittany comment this episode. Artie’s plan seems to be working until Brittany gets the chance to ask for her Christmas present – she wants Artie to walk…and the magic mission has hit quite a snag.
Back to Rachel, because she hasn’t gotten enough attention this episode. She lures Finn to the auditorium under the guise of needing his guidance on Christmas decorations since she’s Jewish and it’s all kind of new to her. She’s turned the auditorium into a winter wonderland that reminds me of the aluminum tree lot in It’s Christmas, Charlie Brown! and prepares to give Finn his Christmas present: a sincere apology and a “song of Rachel Berry’s choosing.” Despite her grand gesture, Finn’s still aching over the Puckleberry betrayal and he bolts. Like any diva, Rachel knows the show must go on, and she takes to the lonely stage to sing one of my favorite Christmas songs, “Merry Christmas, Darling.” She may be grating, but it’s Christmas; can’t we just forgive her this once?
From Rachel’s heartbreak, to Kurt’s pitter-pattering heart over at the Dalton Academy we go (albeit with a quick glance at Schue’s ideas for Sue’s gift – Robot Dog or a soul – that’s the Glee I know and love). Blaine asks Kurt to help him rehearse for a local Christmas show, where he’ll sing the male half of “Baby It’s Cold Outside.” Kurt plays the part traditionally reserved for ladies and looks happier than he’s been all season – can they just be a couple already? They’re so ridiculously cute together, and Kurt deserves a little bit of a romantic resolution after all that drama.
After the sweet song, they reveal the reason for the stop at Dalton – Schue needs help finding a present for Sue and Kurt’s the best shopper he knows. When he walks down the hall proudly toting a track suit with a fur-lined hood for Sue, Schue, Emma and Bieste realize that they all got Sue in the drawing. It turns out Becky switched the tub full of teachers’ names for a tub full of Sue’s name when Sue created a diversion by taking science books to an exorcist. (I’ve missed this Sue.) Schue is determined to stop her from getting away with her scheme, so he repos her gifts (even the six Shake Weights she was gifted – nope, Shake Weight jokes never get old) and wraps them to give them to a charity. Feeling guilty yet about making a holiday donation?
Sue isn’t going to let this stand. Schue called her a Grinch so that’s exactly what she becomes. Green face paint and gloves complete the look – as does the black nose paint and Rein-dog headband she makes Becky wear – and she reenacts the famous scene from How the Grinch Stole Christmas with extra vigor and violence as “Sue the Grinch” plays in the background. To complete the homage, Brittany comes in dressed as Cindy-lou Who, bringing a gift for the charity just as Sue is escaping with the classic “I’m just fixing the Christmas tree excuse.” I’m happy they did this little tribute, I just wish they would have gotten to it sooner in the episode instead of making it an afterthought; especially since the episode ends with the glee version of the Dr. Suess tale’s conclusion.
The club is disheartened by Sue’s wreckage. Brittany assures them that Santa is fixing it, and Artie convinces Schue with a look to keep his Santa belief alive. Rachel insists that she and Finn get the club a new tree – which is really just a big excuse for her to sing to him while she puts the moves on. They waltz around the Christmas tree lot singing “Last Christmas” – and it would have been a crime if they didn’t include the cheesy holiday pop classic. It seems to work, they even kiss, but of course Finn can see past the Christmas magic and he breaks up with Rachel for good. Come on, we knew they weren’t going to get back together without at least half a season of angst before they do.
One of the best moments in the episode comes when the club tries desperately to raise money for charity by cutting their hair and selling their grandfathers’ watches. Schue stops them and returns to the Schue we knew last season for a minute while he aptly explains the story of Gift of the Magi and he convinces them to sing for a group of people that truly need Christmas cheer. It turns out to be William McKinley’s teachers – I guess public high school teachers really do need a good cheering up, they put up with the unthinkable on a daily basis.
Artie and the guys ask Bieste to play Santa – somehow she forgives them even though the whole “you have Santa’s body type” quip would have made any normal woman storm out on them. So she sneaks into Brittany’s house and explains to her that Santa can’t actually make Artie walk again, delving into a heartfelt speech about Bieste’s childhood wish to be a normal girl; Santa (or “Santie” as Bieste keeps saying) didn’t change her look, but he gave her patience. Despite the sweet way Bieste explains it, Brittany is left bitter over Santa’s inability to do anything. Of course, it’s the disappointment in Brittany’s eyes that eventually inspires Bieste to use the immense amount of funds she somehow inexplicably has at her disposal to buy the walking robot suit for Artie and restore Brittany’s Christmas spirit.
The club sings to the teaching staff with a rendition of “Fahoo Forays” -- the song from the end of How The Grinch Stole Christmas. As Sue hoards her gifts, the song inspires kindness in the teachers who all donate money to charity as the gleeks carol. Sue is drawn to the sound just as the Grinch was, and Becky utters the famous line, “Christmas came anyway.” Even Sue’s tiny heart is touched and it inspires her to gather the gleeks and decorate Schue’s lonely apartment and give him some company so he doesn’t have to spend Christmas Eve alone. It may not have been the most consistent episode, but it definitely is the season to put those things aside and enjoy the cheery goodness.