I first remember watching the trailer for Brian De Palma’s “Blow Out” years ago before a double feature at New Beverly Cinema. While I don’t remember which double feature I was seeing that evening, I do remember the trailer itself and in becoming excited about checking out this underappreciated De Palma classic. Roger Ebert gave it four out of four stars and proclaimed it to be one of those “hidden treasures” at your local video store, and Quentin Tarantino, who bought the building New Beverly Cinema is housed in, has declared this to be one of three motion pictures he would love to take with him to a deserted island.
That little needle bouncing up when a certain sound is detected instantly reminded me of when I recorded my favorite records to audio tape when I was a boy. You had to make sure the levels did not go into the red area as the sound could become distorted and easily lay waste to your expensive stereo system. But when Jack Terry (played by John Travolta) ends up recording a loud sound no one was ever supposed to hear, and which ended up on the red side of the sound mix, we immediately know this was no mere accident.
I love how this trailer shows Travolta, Nancy Allen and John Lithgow giving the performances of their lives here. Seeing them shows how committed they are to the material, and I love the ever so cold look on Lithgow’s face as he is about to take the life of an innocent victim who is completely unsuspecting of someone about to strangle them. They way this trailer builds to a fever pitch made me want to check it out sooner rather than later.
“Blow Out” was a box office disappointment when released back in 1981 despite positive reviews, but thanks to Ebert and Tarantino among others, it has since gained a cult following it richly deserves. I finally got to check it out at the New Beverly Cinema where it played as a double feature with a movie said to have inspired it, Michelangelo Antonioni’s “Blow-Up.” This proved to be quite the cinematic evening for yours truly.
With each passing year, I find myself getting increasingly cynical and disenchanted with the Academy Awards/Oscars. As a kid, I watched them with wonder and excitement as the winners gave such great speeches in front of an audience that adored them. But as an adult, I see more and more how the wheels spin as movie studios continue to spend millions upon millions of dollars on their Oscar campaigns in hopes of obtaining one or more of those golden statues. Let’s face it if we have not already, an Oscar win means big box office money, and everyone wants to see their films turn a profit even if those Hollywood accountants will eventually tell them they did not, news which we greet with a loud, “Bitch, please!”
Still, as I watched the 95th Annual Academy Awards which saw the return of Jimmy Kimmel as host, I found myself swept in the innocence of everything cinematic as the speeches the winners gave moved me to no end. Granted, this ceremony is essentially Hollywood’s way of congratulating itself, but sometimes they get it right with the winners (case in point: “Parasite”). Plus, it is the only awards show I bother to watch as the Emmys and the Grammys never do anything for me. As for the Golden Globes, they are enjoyable for all the wrong reasons.
Allow me to take a look at this year’s Oscars before I slip into my cynical self and discover all the things which were wrong with it. Call me naïve or woefully ignorant, I would rather celebrate this evening right now rather than lay waste to it.
Well, there were virtually no surprises as “Everything Everywhere All at Once” won the most Oscars including Best Picture. “All Quiet on the Western Front,” however, looked at one point to be the evening’s upset victor as it scored more wins than many initially suspected. But with Daniel Kwan and Daniel Scheinert’s film walking off with key prizes at the DGA and PGA award shows, we all walked in to this one knowing who would be victorious.
Ke Huy Quan proved to be an unforgettable presence in both “Indiana Jones and the Temple of Doom” and “The Goonies” before his acting career lost speed and he went to work in film production and as a fight choreographer. His win for Best Supporting Actor was an emotional one as he spoke of how he spent a year in a refugee camp long before arriving on the stage at the Dolby Theatre in Hollywood. Here is what he also said:
“Dreams are something you have to believe in. I almost gave up on mine,” he said. “To all of you out there, please keep your dreams alive.”
Regardless of how cynical I may have become, I could not help but be moved by what Quan said as our dreams and passions are what we should be living for.
And how cool is it to finally be able to call Jamie Lee Curtis an Oscar winner? I have said this over and over, but you can put her in a god awful movie (“Virus” for example) and she will still deliver a terrific performance regardless of the material she has been saddled with. Her win for Best Supporting Actress comes on the heels of her laying waste to Michael Myers one last time in “Halloween Ends.” Granted, the Akkad family is bound to resurrect the “Halloween” franchise at some point in the future, but Curtis, as Laurie Strode, still got to have the last word.
As for Curtis’ speech, it was as moving as Quan’s as she slowly accepted the reality that she actually won an Academy Award. While many were not shocked at her taking home the Best Supporting Actress Oscar, she clearly was. Her proclamation of “I just won an Oscar” may come to rival Sally Field’s infamous one of “You like me! You really like me!”
When it comes to Best Original Song, the performances of each nominee can either be a much needed bathroom break or something spectacular which upstages the rest of the show. This year was a mixed bag when it came to that, but the winner of this category, “Naatu Naatu” from the film “RRR” brought the house down with its energetic performance as the performers and singers displayed an infinite amount of passion and audacity as they danced and sang the night away. The standing ovation which accompanied this was well deserved.
Still, when it came to the other original song nominees, Lady Gaga was not far behind with her performance of “Hold My Hand” from “Top Gun: Maverick” which proved to be both emotional and rousing. Moreover, while she came into the Dolby Theatre looking as glamorous as anyone else, Lady Gaga performed this song sans makeup and in a dark t-shirt which made her rendition of this song infinitely remarkable and wonderfully defiant.
I got to interview Michelle Yeoh a few years ago when she was doing press for “Crouching Tiger Hidden Dragon: Sword of Destiny,” and she look fabulous and was great to talk to. I was reminded of this during her speech when she won Best Actress for “Everything Everywhere All at Once” as she gave us some of the most memorable lines of the evening:
“Ladies, don’t ever let anyone tell you that you are past your prime.”
“For all the little boys and girls who look like me watching tonight, this is a beacon of hope and possibility.”
No one can ever forget the inevitable “In Memorium” segment which pays tribute those who have since passed away, and which also infuriate so many who get deeply angered over who got omitted (speaking of which, what about Richard Belzer?). Having John Travolta introduce this segment seemed both appropriate and highly emotional as two of his co-stars, Olivia Newton John and Kirstie Alley, died after their long fights with cancer, and the death of his beloved wife Kelly Preston still hangs heavy on him. Lenny Kravitz pulled off a memorable performance as the names of the deceased were unveiled before us. Was anyone left out? Probably, but I will let others get into that. I do not have the energy to do it here.
And when it comes to predestination, Brendan Fraser’s win for Best Actor in “The Whale” was an inescapable certainty. Everyone loves a comeback, and no one could seem to get enough of his performance as a morbidly obese man desperate to restore his relationship to his daughter. Some will say there are no absolutes in life, only in vodka, but there was little doubt Fraser was going to take home the prize. And even after all the accolades he has received thus far, he remained as emotional as he was on the WTF Podcast with Marc Maron as he thanked director Darren Aronofsky for “throwing me a creative lifeline and hauling me aboard.” That is quite the compliment.
It is moments like these which quickly remind me of why I love watching the Academy Awards/Oscars. Regardless of the ridiculously competitive races Hollywood studios participate in, and whether or not you believe these winners even deserve to be nominated, I cannot help but love how thrilled the winners are to have reached such a penultimate recognition. History is always being made, and careers are being rewarded to where I cannot and do not want to deny that dreams can come true. Even if they do not come true for everyone, it always provides a beacon of hope we all need and thrive upon in this crazy realm known as show business.
Even as I still wonder if the Oscar campaign tactics of the Weinsteins are still being utilized by others, there is still a special place in my heart for the Academy Awards. Even if they seem more political than anything else, watching them still makes my spirits rise even when they seem too low down. Now please excuse me as I have to end this article before the things which pissed me off about this year’s Oscars rise to the surface…
…Okay, there a couple of things. I mean seriously, did we really need Halle Bailey and Melissa McCarthy introducing the new trailer for Rob Marshall’s take on “The Little Mermaid?” This struck me as crass commercialism as the producers have better things to do than promote upcoming films during this ceremony. Besides, if they are going to show a trailer for that, what about other studio releases? What is so special about Disney that they get to promote yet another live action remake of one of their famous animated classics?
As for the tribute to Warner Brothers on its 100th anniversary, someone needs to do a little more research as some of the movies they showed originated under MGM, not Warner Brothers. Even Bugs Bunny was rolling his eyes at this, and yes, he did this while in drag.
WRITER’S NOTE: This review was written back in 2012. Some edits have been made since then to make it more interesting in the Ultimate Rabbit’s eyes.
“Savages” is being looked at as Oliver Stone’s comeback movie, as if it is implied that he hasn’t made one worth watching in years. Granted, movies like “World Trade Center,” “Wall Street: Money Never Sleeps” and even “W.” might have made it look like Stone was starting to get too soft on us, but none of these movies, however, showed him to be losing any of his power as a filmmaker. I guess we just miss him generating some kind of controversy because we all expect him to have some conspiracy he is just waiting to unleash on an unsuspecting populace.
Based on the book of the same name by Don Winslow, “Savages” shows Stone getting down and dirty again as the film deals with a couple of weed producers who, quite unfortunately, capture the attention of a brutal and greedy Mexican cartel. While it doesn’t reach the exhilarating highs of “Natural Born Killers” or “Scarface” (which he didn’t direct but wrote the screenplay to), it is still a compelling film to watch. However you look at it, Stone is not about to play it safe with the story or its characters this time around.
Blake Lively stars as O (short for Ophelia) who begins “Savages” by saying that just because she’s narrating the movie does not mean she will be alive at the end of it. Now this is a clever beginning as Stone teases us with the possibilities of what is to come, fully ready to rip the rug out from right under us if the occasion calls for it. These days, it is so nice to see any filmmaker, let alone one who has won several Oscars, take such risks these days.
O lives with her two boyfriends, former U.S. Navy SEAL Chon (Taylor Kitsch) and University of California at Berkeley graduate Ben (Aaron Johnson), both of whom happen to grow some of the best marijuana you could ever hope to inhale. They live their days in Laguna Beach, California which is so beautifully captured by cinematographer Dan Mindel to where I want to drive down there in a New York minute. Heck, I used to go to school near there!
Anyway, Chon and Ben receive a very cryptic message from the Baja Cartel which comes along with a video featuring beheaded drug dealers whom, like these two guys, were independent sellers. Basically, the cartel wants to go into business with them and take a cut of their profits. Chon and Ben, however, refuse to get involved with any cartel, and they make plans to move out of the country with O to another where they can stay for at least a year. But the head of the cartel, Elena Sánchez (Salma Hayek), believes these guys need to show her some respect, so she gets her henchmen to kidnap O in order to make them comply with her demands. But Chon and Ben are not about to let go of their O without a fight.
The movie’s title, “Savages,” makes me wonder who it is referring to among its cast of characters. It is tempting to think it refers to the Baja Cartel as they utilize horrific methods to get what they want, but it could really be referring to any of the characters we see here. Stone is examining just how far we can be pushed before we are forced to embrace our animalistic nature, and he gets at this horrifying truth of what violence we are all capable of when we get pushed to extremes.
“Savages” is far from original as its story may remind many of their favorite “Miami Vice” episodes. With a movie like this, I expected Stone to be pushing our buttons a little bit harder than he does here. But even though I came out of it feeling Stone could have gone even further with the violence, the action is still jolting and, at times, extremely graphic; one guy even finds one of his eyes hanging out of its socket during a moment of torture. Stone also utilizes his many ways of shooting which include black and white footage along with scenes of psychedelic power as characters find themselves under the influence either by choice or by force.
Now I don’t care what anybody says, Blake Lively is a good actress. Many seem to sneer whenever she is starring in a movie, but maybe this is because she was on “Gossip Girl,” a show I have never bothered to watch. Lively has to take her character of O from being a fun seeking woman to one who has to learn to live again, and she is excellent throughout. After her turn as a drug addicted single mother in Ben Affleck’s “The Town,” there should be zero doubt that she can act.
It has been a tough year thus far for Taylor Kitsch who has seen two big budget blockbusters he starred in, “John Carter” and “Battleship,” bomb hard at the box office. Then again, those movies probably would have bombed no matter who starred in them. With his role as Chon, he shows a toughness and attitude which is not easily faked, and you can see why so many were looking to cast him in their projects. Many actors yearn to play a ballbuster when given the opportunity, and Kitsch rises to the occasion and gives a terrific performance.
Aaron Johnson, who plays Chon’s more philosophical partner Ben, seems to have grown up a lot between this movie and “Kick Ass.” Once again, Johnson is playing a character who is eager prove himself and yet completely unaware of what that will take. From start to finish, he does an excellent job of transitioning his character from a peaceful man to a bloody defender of what he loves.
But leave it to some acting demigods to give “Savages” its potent power which nails us right into our seats. Benicio Del Toro is brilliant as the sociopathic henchman Lado. Like the most entertaining cinematic sociopaths, Lado is at times charming while more often menacing and extremely sick. He thinks nothing of killing people when the opportunity presents itself, and Del Toro looks to be having a blast as he explores the different facets of his character’s twisted personality.
And then there’s Salma Hayek who singes the screen as drug queen Elena Sánchez. All Hayek has to do is give the audience one look, and you know this is a person you do not want to mess with. She also gets a surprisingly complex character to play as Elena’s ascent to being a big-time drug dealer had more to do with tragedy than it did with opportunity.
“Savages” also features strong performances from John Travolta as a corrupt DEA agent, Emile Hirsch as the money launderer Spin, and Demián Bichir as one of Elena’s representatives, Alex. There is not a single weak performance to be found here as everyone looks to be as thrilled as can be to be acting in an Oliver Stone movie.
Now there has been some controversy over the movie’s ending as it offers up two very different conclusions. The way it comes across reminded me of when Michael Haneke got one of his characters to grab a remote control to reverse and alter the events in “Funny Games.” Both directors are looking to mess with our heads. While the fates of the characters are not entirely resolved, it was worth seeing things turn out the way they did as some end up getting very clever about the situations they are trapped in.
Is “Savages” classic Oliver Stone? Not quite, but it is certainly more potent and energetic than some of his other recent work. Give him the right story, and he can still give you a cinematic experience like few others can.