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.
Kill Bill Vol. 2 picks up where the first installment left off with The Bride (Uma Thurman) delivering a "refresh your memory" monologue as she drives to her next victim Budd (aka Sidewinder). These shots are cut through with flashbacks that tell the whole story of the "Massacre at Two Pines " and it's instant-gratification city. First we meet the wedding party the reverend and his wife and Rufus the piano player (Samuel L. Jackson in a cameo role). But most importantly we meet the elusive Bill (David Carradine) for the first time. (He appeared in the first film only in voiceover.) You know from the start that this movie isn't going to rely on the same suspense devices the first film did and you soon learn it doesn't rely as heavily on the blood and gore that so distinguished the first installment. The creatively shot and intelligently constructed opening scenes make Tarantino's epic of evil gripping right from the start in its own right. Amazingly considering the way she ripped her enemies apart in the first film The Bride doesn't always get her man in this one; Budd (Michael Madsen) actually gets the best of the Bride--at least temporarily--and entombs her in "The Lonely Grave of Paula Schultz " one of the most horrifying scenes of burial alive ever. Flash back to "The Cruel Tutelage" of kung-fu master Pei Mei (Gordon Liu) who taught The Bride how to break through wood planks with her fists from three inches away (which comes in handy now) and the Five Point Palm Exploding Heart technique (which will come in handy later). Freeing herself from her makeshift grave to do battle with her victims once more the Bride dispenses with both Budd and Elle Driver (Daryl Hannah) who's conveniently appeared on the scene and it's on to the greatest battle of them all--it's time to Kill Bill
Thurman proves her calm cool collected mettle once more as The Bride (aka Beatrix Kiddo aka Black Mamba) plucking out eyeballs bloodying her fists punching wood exploding hearts and the like. But we also see her completely vulnerable during flashbacks to the time she spent in a coma after the attack (some gnarly stuff happens in the hospital but no spoilers forthcoming from this reviewer). And there's a softer side to Black Mamba when she's awake too. In another flashback we see The Bride on her last assignment before she quit the assassination business to become a wife and mom--the stick in her EPT has just turned blue when a rival assassin comes knocking through the door and it's a poignant moment (with a Tarantino edge) as she tries to protect her unborn child. Carradine's Bill is somehow less menacing than one might have expected but there's enough creepiness in the character for an audience to imagine what a real hard case he must have been in his glory days. Hannah enjoys a splendid comeback role as The Bride's fellow assassin and she's regal in her adherence to the warrior code they share. Madsen wears Sidewinder's cowboy hat and slouchy jeans like he was born to them and swills whisky like a ranch hand yet he still captures the wistfulness of the once-great fighter if somewhat ironically.
Fans of Tarantino's Pulp Fiction can start rejoicing. He's finally made a film that lives up to the standard he set back in 1990. All the influences on the first film are still very much in evidence here--Asian martial arts films in particular--but each chapter in this installment as in the previous has its own look creating a mix n' match patchwork feel that somehow manages to work in spite of itself. If there's one criticism it's that it indulges a bit in its own cleverness and that makes it a little too long. But Vol. 2 shouldn't see the big criticisms aimed at Vol. 1's dark gory violence; instead Vol. 2 finds kinship with its creator's first big hit in its story and characters. Sure it's overblown; sure everyone is evil on some level. That's the fun of it. And every now and then a little compassion comes through or a little humor and it captures the ridiculousness of human nastiness whether it's the petty arguments you had all day at work or all the slaughter that's been perpetrated with a Hattori Hanzo sword.
Top Story: Oscar-Winning Actor Peter Ustinov Dies
Oscar-winning British actor and playwright Peter Ustinov died of heart failure Sunday night at a clinic near his home in Switzerland, Reuters reports. He was 82. Ustinov was hospitalized at the end of January after he came down with an undisclosed illness on his return from a holiday in Thailand and never recovered. "It was not a surprise, he was pretty ill. He had had a busy life and he was tired," his son Igor Ustinov told Reuters in a telephone interview. "But he certainly was not ready to go." An actor, writer and humorist, Ustinov, whose career spanned more than 60 years, won two Best Supporting Actor Oscars, for his clown in the 1960 epic Spartacus and his engaging con man in the 1964 actioner Topkapi. He also earned critical praise for his directorial efforts Romanoff and Juliet in 1962; a biting Cold War satire based on his own play, Billy Budd, in 1962; and the 1972 Elizabeth Taylor-Richard Burton comedy Hammersmith Is Out. Ustinov was knighted in 1990 by Britain's Queen Elizabeth but did not like to be known as "Sir Peter." He was also well known for charity work and continued to make public appearances until this last illness, raising money for the United Nations' Children Fund (UNICEF), for which he was an ambassador.
CBS Searches for Next Martha Stewart
CBS is looking for the next Martha Stewart and--lo and behold!--yet another reality TV show is born. According to Reuters, the network has teamed up with LMNO Productions to create a 10-episode reality show to discover the next lifestyle trendsetter. The program will feature 12 individuals living together and competing in the domestic arts such as interior decorating, cooking and party planning ,as producers throw them curves to test their imaginations and their grace under pressure. Casting will be open to both men and women, but a spokesman for LMNO told Reuters producers have not decided whether any men will necessarily make the cut.
Baywatch Star Discusses JFK, Jr.-Bessette Love Triangle
The A&E Network is set to air a special one-hour documentary and exclusive interview Monday night with former Baywatch star and Calvin Klein model Michael Bergin, in which he says he had an affair with Carolyn Bessette, John F. Kennedy Jr.'s wife. This marks the first time Bergin has spoken publicly in great detail about the Bergin-Bessette-Kennedy love triangle, which began when he dated Bessette for several years before her marriage. In The Other Man: JFK, Jr., Carolyn Bessette & Me, Bergin says their relationship rekindled in Los Angeles in 1997 after she was married, and at one point she spent 11 days with him when Kennedy was on a kayaking trip with his friends. Bergin was living in Hawaii in July 1999, when Kennedy and Bessette were killed in a plane crash off the coast of Martha's Vineyard.
Soprano Star De Matteo Joins Joey
The Sopranos star Drea De Matteo has landed the role of Joey Tribbiani's sister on NBC's upcoming Friends spinoff, Joey. According to The Hollywood Reporter, De Matteo will play Joey's (Matt LeBlanc) sister Gina, a hairdresser who lives in Los Angeles with her son. Like Joey, Gina is a strong person who isn't afraid to speak her mind and has a way with the opposite sex. And expect her to be a tad bit smarter than Joey, too.
Nick Lachey in ABC's Hot Mamma
Singer turned reality TV star Nick Lachey has been cast opposite Gina Gershon in the ABC comedy Hot Mamma, about a hip wedding planner and single mom (Gershon) and her more conservative daughter. According to The Hollywood Reporter, Lachey will play a struggling actor who works odd jobs and runs errands for the women in exchange for boarding. The casting comes form Lachey's development/talent deal with ABC and its Disney-owned corporate sibling, Touchstone TV.
William Shatner Has Two Feet Back on Earth With The Practice Spinoff
Former Star Trek star William Shatner is expected to make a permanent return to primetime in David E. Kelley's spinoff to canceled legal drama The Practice, which is wrapping its eight-year run this season. Shatner has already appeared on The Practice as Danny Crane, the senior partner in the law firm that represents Alan Shore (James Spader) in his wrongful termination lawsuit against Young, Frutt & Berluti, the company around which The Practice revolved.
Singer Howie Day Arrested After Madison Gig
Singer Howie Day, who opened for the band Barenaked Ladies at a concert Wednesday in Madison, Wis., was charged Friday with two misdemeanor counts of criminal damage to property and disorderly conduct in connection with a post-concert incident on his tour bus, The Associated Press reports. According to a criminal complaint, Day was arrested Wednesday for allegedly locking a woman in a bathroom on the tour bus after she refused his sexual advances, broke the cell phone of another woman trying to call police and then poured beer on them. "That was probably wrong of me," Day said about breaking the phone. "But I felt violated."
Hagar Joins Van Halen for Summer Tour
After an eight-year split, singer Sammy Hagar is returning to rock band Van Halen-- just in time for a summer concert tour. The band will hit the road this summer for the first time in almost six years in a tour of indoor North American arenas, starting with a June 11 performance in Greensboro, N.C., Reuters reports. Hagar first joined Van Halen in 1985 after original vocalist David Lee Roth quit to launch a solo career. But Hagar left the group in early 1996 claiming that he was fired by his bandmates, who countered he had quit. Van Halen found itself a new singer--Gary Cherone--but the change didn't gel with fans and the band's popularity faded, as did their deal at Warner Bros. Records.
Role Call: Disney Mulls Toy Story 3
Walt Disney Co. studio chief Dick Cook said Friday he was leaning toward making the third installment of Toy Story, Pixar Animation Studios Inc. 's 1995 hit, a feature film rather than a straight-to-video project. Although Disney and Pixar plan to part ways after two more films together, the Mouse House still retains
A former shoeshine boy, he went on to a prodigious movie career and a prodigious life, starring in more than 100 feature films and siring 13 children. On Saturday, Anthony Quinn passed away from respiratory failure, robbing Hollywood of a true legend. Quinn was 86.
The tempestuous screen image of two-time Academy Award winner and Renaissance man Anthony Quinn matched his much-publicized, unquenchable thirst for life.
Quinn's exotic background enabled him to play a potpourri of ethnicity, ranging from an Eskimo in Savage Innocents (1960) to a Russian pope in Shoes of the Fisherman (1968), to his most famous role, Zorba the Greek (1964).
Quinn also played a plethora of historical roles like Crazy Horse in They Died with Their Boots On (1942), Attila the Hun in Attila (1955), Paul Gauguin in Lust for Life (1956) and Kubla Khan in Marco the Magnificent (1966).
The death of his Irish-Mexican father, who had ridden with Pancho Villa before settling in Los Angeles to work as a cameraman and prop man, forced the younger Quinn to help support his grandmother, mother and sister. In addition to working such positions as shoeshine boy, cement mixer and foreman in a mattress factory, Quinn also played saxophone in evangelist Aimee Semple McPherson's orchestra.
During junior high school Quinn won a chance to study and work with celebrated architect Frank Lloyd Wright, whose insistence that Quinn attend acting school to improve his speech ultimately led to his career in film.
Though Quinn acted on stage with Mae West in Clean Beds and spoke his first lines on film in Parole (both 1936), he made a lasting impression by standing up to Cecil B DeMille, who cast him as a Cheyenne Indian in 1937's The Plainsman.
As cast and crew looked on, Quinn responded to the most recent of a series of abusive outbursts from the director by telling DeMille how he should shoot the scene and where DeMille could put his $75 a day salary. After staring at the young actor for some time, DeMille announced, "The boy's right. We'll change the set-up," and later said admiringly, "It was one of the most auspicious beginnings for an actor I've ever seen."
Quinn would act in two more movies, The Buccaneer (1938) and Union Pacific (1939), for the directing legend. He would also woo and marry his adopted daughter Katherine and helm the 1958 remake of The Buccaneer, executive produced by DeMille and the director's last project before he died.
By then, Quinn had shaken free of the son-in-law tag to become a star in his own right, exhibiting tremendous staying power over the course of a career spanning seven decades, mixing inspired performances with good cured ham.
Quinn played his fair share of Indians amidst assorted heavies, even ending up with Bob Hope, Bing Crosby and Dorothy Lamour in two of the "Road" movies: Road to Singapore (1940) and Road to Morocco (1944). But despite many good notices for supporting roles in pictures like Blood and Sand (1941), The Ox-Bow Incident (1943) and Back to Bataan (1945), it would take a return to the stage to raise his stock higher.
He made his Broadway debut in The Gentleman from Athens (1947) before director Elia Kazan tapped him as Stanley Kowalski for a U.S. tour of A Streetcar Named Desire. Kazan then cast him as Marlon Brando's brother in Viva Zapata (1952), for which he earned the first of two Oscars as Best Supporting Actor.
Quinn played an aging bullfighter opposite Maureen O'Hara in Budd Boetticher's The Magnificent Matador (1955) and then won his second Best Supporting Actor Academy Award for his portrayal of larger-than-life artist Paul Gauguin in Lust for Life (1956), the title an apt description of his own zestfulness.
Finally, after 20 years in the business, he had become a full-fledged box office star, and the next year would see him garner a Best Actor Oscar nomination for his turn opposite Anna Magnani in 1957's Wild Is the Wind. Quinn followed in the prestigious footsteps of Lon Chaney and Charles Laughton as Quasimodo in The Hunchback of Notre Dame; the actor was also outstanding as the opportunistic Bedouin Auda Abu Tayi in David Lean's Lawrence of Arabia (1962).
Although Quinn had portrayed with distinction Greek patriot Colonel Andrea Stavros in 1961's The Guns of Navarone, that character paled before what would become his signature role. The very embodiment of the actor's passion for living, Zorba the Greek (1964) was a wise and aging peasant, totally committed to life, no matter the outcome. From his slapstick pursuit of aging French courtesan (Oscar-winner Lila Kedrova) to the pathos of cradling her as she died in his arms, Quinn pulled out all the emotional stops on his way to another Best Actor Oscar nomination.
Nearly 20 years later, Quinn reprised Zorba!, this time in a 1983 revival of the Broadway musical which reunited him with both Kedrovaand the film's writer-director Michael Cacoyannis. Quinn earned a Tony nomination for his efforts before touring the U.S. from 1983-86, forever stamping the part as his in the minds of the theater-going public.
Wife Kathy Benvin, who is the mother of his two youngest children, survives Quinn, along with eight sons and four daughters.