Run time 130 minutes.
Not for children.

From l, Blake Lively and Bene-cio Del Toro in “Savages.”

When Oliver Stone puts his mind to it, he can really make a movie. This one is filled with brutal graphic violence, prolific foul language, and constant tension. I asked my friend how she liked it. Her response, “It’s riveting, but I don’t like it.” That might be a fairly common reaction.

Set in Laguna Beach, California, and based on Don Winslow’s best-selling crime novel, named one of the New York Times‘ top ten books of 2010, it’s about two young Americans, Taylor Kitsch, a former Navy Seal, and his closest friend, Aaron Johnson, a peaceful, charitable botanist, who cultivate good marijuana, and how they get entangled with the Mexican Drug Lords, in the persons of Benecio Del Toro, one of the most cold-blooded killers ever seen in film, Demiá Bichir, and Salma Hayek, the materfamilias of the crime family. Kitsch and Johnson live with and share the affections of Blake Lively, a beautiful free-spirit who loves both of them equally, literally. The tension starts with the first scene and never lets up.

The film doesn’t really make the point, but it epitomizes the idiocy of making marijuana illegal. All this crime and violence and money is the result of a society unable to allow citizens to make up their own minds whether or not to use marijuana, a basically harmless substance that alters awareness about as much as alcohol without the side effects of alcohol. It makes no sense to make marijuana illegal (for the record, I’m not a user). Worse, to criminalize medical marijuana is criminal in itself. Talk about mindless, unsympathetic Puritanism! Why not burn users at the stake?

Anyway, that really doesn’t have anything to do with the movie, although apparently Stone is on the record as favoring the legalization of marijuana. The acting is terrific, but what really sets this film apart is the way Stone keeps up the pace for two hours and 10 minutes. The tension never lets up. It is graphically violent, so much that you occasionally want to avert your eyes, but it does capture the heartlessness of the fiends who run the drug trade. I did not like the silly, teasing, way Stone ended it, an insult to his audience. But, that aside, this is a high-quality film that should be rewarded in award season.

Magic Mike

Runtime 110 minutes.
Not for children.

From l, Channing Tatum and Matthew McConaughey in “Magic Mike.”

A-G-0-N-Y. That’s how I spell this 110 minutes. A story of male strippers in Tampa, Florida, starring Channing Tatum (who also produced), this is a complete waste of time, exhibiting enough male pelvic thrusts to last several lifetimes, exacerbated by all the male dancers constantly grabbing themselves.

Tatum is a former male model who found acting after working as a 19-year-old male stripper, an experience upon which he based this film. He’s worked a lot in forgettable movies, except for 21 Jump Street, which I liked. This one is so bad that it can’t be termed “forgettable.” Whenever I think of horrible movies, I won’t be able to forget it.

Technically, director Steven Soderbergh must have saved money buying film stock because the color is so washed out it could pass for black & white. The audio is so bad I often yearned for subtitles.

It’s peopled by basically unknown actors, except for the two hunks, Tatum and Matthew McConaughey, who seems to appear in every other movie produced this year.

The “plot” (you should pardon the expression) is that Mike (Tatum) takes 19-year-old Adam (Alex Pettyfer) under his wing to bring him into the fold of the male strip club owned by Dallas (McConaughey). In the process Mike becomes involved with Paige Brooke (Cody Horn), Adam’s sister. She’s the only character in the film who has a head that’s screwed on right, which makes her attraction for Mike all the more unbelievable.

If this is intended to be character development, showing how Mike realizes the vacuity of his life, something is seriously missing from the film. The “plot” seems to be little more than feeble justification for a peep show for women.

Soderbergh, who has 34 films to his credit as a director, apparently forgot everything he ever might have known about pace, because this thing meanders on and on and on with no place to go, or even pass through.

The only positive is that Horn gives a fine performance. I’ve only seen Tatum play low-IQ types with a constant expression of bewilderment on his face. He does that very well.

Maybe women like seeing buff guys thrust their stuff in bikini bottoms (three young ladies who walked out in front of me were giggling about how much they enjoyed it), but I can’t imagine any straight guy being anything other than disgusted by this film.

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