John Reviews “Savages”

I know I’m way behind on these, so I’m going to try and update over my “Christmas Break”. First up, was Literary Adaptation Month,.

For those who automatically think “conspiracy-theory” when you hear the name Oliver Stone, the 2012 film Savages reminds us that Stone is the same director that brought us Natural Born Killers and U-Turn. And wherever mental place Oliver Stone went in directing Natural Born Killers and U-Turn, he has returned to in order to bring us Savages.

Savages is part-love story, part-crime drama. It tells the story of three lovers: Chon (Taylor Kitsch of Friday Night Lights) and Ben (Aaron Johnson of Angus, Thongs and Perfect Snogging) who have managed to concoct the greatest strain of marijuana on the market. They both love, and are loved by O (Blake Lively of Gossip Girl). In a way, Chon and Ben are two sides of the same coin. Chon is the angry vet who has the “Kill Them All, Let God Sort Them Out” mentality, while Ben wants to save the world.

Life is good for our three lovers, until a Mexican drug cartel, headed by Elena (Salma Hayek of Frida) wants to muscle in on their territory, and force the pair to go into business with them, and aren’t afraid to let a little thing like a body count get in the way. Chon and Ben decide to flee the country but before they can, O is kidnapped by the cartel. Rather than just give up or cut their losses (that being O), Ben and Chon decide to go to war with the cartel.

Savages is based on the book by the same name by Don Winslow, which I picked up over the summer. I didn’t realize it until I did some research but Winslow also wrote “Satori” which I read a year or so ago and really enjoyed. (I think I nominated it for a Sammy.) The film is pretty true to the novel, but I would suggest the book is slightly better. One advantage the film does have over the book is Blake Lively’s portrayal of O. In the film, O comes off as smarter and more street-wise than the Valley Girl that the book makes her out to be.

This film turned up on a couple of “Worst Films of 2012” list and while Savages isn’t a classic, I think it has been demeaned for the same reason a lot of Stone’s films are: they just aren’t for everyone. For all the dirt and grit, blood and violence, Savages was a gripping tale where you want everything to turn out all right in the end for the protagonists. I won’t play spoiler, but you’ll have to watch the film to find out. I will say that once you start watching, much like when you start reading the novel, you’ll find yourself committed to making your way through to the end.


I’m still watching movies!!!


As you might expect, our theme for October (yes, I’m just getting to October) was horror movies. And I thought three of them made an interesting evolutionary trio: Halloween, Friday the 13th, and The Cabin In The Woods.

Now to me, Halloween represents that rare thing in Hollywood – an original and well-executed idea. I remember when it came out. I was 13 and we couldn’t wait to sneak into theaters to see it. We’d seen nothing like it before – horror in suburbia with a smart but emotionless killer (the blank mask) coming to get us. Especially if we were doing something illicit as teenagers (sex and drugs). I think the movie holds up pretty well. The number of deaths seems small by today’s standards, it’s not particularly gory, and the minimalist soundtrack still holds up.

Friday the 13th, of course, represents that…

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Bekki does Scary Movies

I don’t normally do scary movies. I was dragged to both of the Blair Witch Project ones.  I watched them through my fingers.  I kind of enjoyed the Scream movies.  Well rather I appreciated their premises, but it wasn’t so much an enjoyment.  I could probably put The Faculty into that category too.   The only scary movies I seem to like are Zombie related.  (Shaun of the Dead, Zombieland, Resident Evil, 28 Days Later, etc)

I really hate human on human cruelty (Saw, etc.). I just can’t watch those.  Also, possession type movies are not my favorite either.

Therefore, for this month I elicited the help of my good friend Becky (who in many ways is my Mid-west Kelly) to hold my hand through the marathon of October movies.  I do apologize up front for the fact that I couldn’t bring myself to watch The Exorcist so I left it off the list. [feel free to insert various chicken noises here]

The Omen

This movie had its moments.  It was a bit creepy, but I pretty much called everything.  I would love to see the sequel when the son manipulates his adoptive father.  Gregory Peck was fun, though this was clearly before men started waxing their eyebrows.  I was just not very impressed with what all he let his nanny get away with.  She was far too sassy for my liking. Even though I knew she was evil I felt that no self-respecting rich person would let their staff repeatedly get away with such crap and blatant disregard for rules. They might have saved themselves a lot of trouble by raising their kid on their own.

Favorite moment: the death of the photographer.  That was AWESOME.

Rating: B . Creepy, but dated, and not as scary as it could have been.
Bonus –>Favorite antichrist literature: Good Omens by Neil Gaiman and Terry Pratchett.  The anti-christ is accidentally switched at birth with a normal kid, and a Demon and an Angel team up to stop the end of humanity.

Friday the 13th

First, a question: What did this have to do with Friday the 13th?

This was my least favorite of the bunch.  Human on Human cruelty and all that.  These kids didn’t really deserve to die.  Though I am really glad that the one I liked the most managed to survive.  What was weird, and quite possibly the coolest moment of the movie, was when ‘Jason’ appeared in the water towards the end.

Rating: C+ . I shuddered a lot, but wasn’t really scared or surprised until Jason.  I think Scream (and all the rules about horror movies) kind of ruined this movie for me.

Dusk Til Dawn

Oh Tarantino. You make me smile.  This movie was just fun.  Except for the fact that a) QT’s character was a sex offender of epic proportions and b) this movie was really 4 smaller films that were loosely held together.  Rather than being a seamless story the  movie had a vignette that got done, and then something outrageous happened to start it again.

Fun moments: the penis gun, Salma Hayak with a snake, Juliet Lewis on the potty at immigration, George Clooney with a neck tattoo, the view of the bar from behind with the pit and all the rusting trucks in it.

This was, however, kind of the vampire version of Signs, with a preacher who lost his faith.  Also I’m going to call shenanigans on supersoakers with holy water.  I feel like that was just a bit too juvenile.

Rating: B-.  Solid, fun, gory, but not really a substantial story.

Cabin in the Woods

After Kelly’s review I expected to not like this movie much.  Contrary to her perspective, I liked it a lot.  I think I might have to own it.  I liked the premise a very lot, and some of the innuendo’s and nods to other genre’s made me happy.  The idea that all of our myths, even our filmed ones, come from some sort of truth is intriguing to me.  Here we see the archetypes, Jock, scholar, virgin, fool, harlot all need to be sacrifices to appease the ancient ones, and keep earth safe.  Yeah I see Joss Whedon all over this.

Fun moments:  Bradly Whitford using the F bomb.  I have been rewatching the West Wing and I just know that Josh Lyman would have been using it all the time if  network tv would have allowed it.  It was just fun letting my imagination run away with me.  Sigourney Weaver’s Cameo.  I love her. The eventual sighting of the merman. The painting and the one way mirror.  “Yes, you had “Zombies.” But this is “Zombie Redneck Torture Family.” Entirely separate thing. It’s like the difference between an elephant and an elephant seal.” Speakerphone. The husband Bulge. Seeing old Whedonverse friends like Amy Acker , Tom Lenk and Fran Kranz.

Overdone: Kranz’s stoner Marty was a bit too witty and baked for me.  It was just over the line.

Rating: A-.  The story was inventive and funny.  I laughed a lot, and didn’t hardly knit at all.

The bonus to this whole weekend was getting to spend some time with Becky, and also Webster the dog, who I actually lived with for a couple of years.  Turns out Webster’s organs shut down yesterday and Becky had to put him to sleep.  I’m very happy that I got a chance to say good-bye to him. So thanks Flickbuddies, for making me watch scary movies.  That was an unexpected gift.

Cabin in the Woods

I was very excited to see this because I am a huge Joss Whedon fan.

Unfortunately, this movie didn’t live up to the hype for me. It was an interesting premise (a group basically sets up a horror movie-type premise for five unsuspecting college-age kids) but it wasn’t scary or even all that clever.

The cast is really good—Bradley Whitford and Richard Jennings in the group, Avery Johnson in the victims group, plus the best cameo since Zombieland.

I think the best horror movies don’t try to be clever at the expense of scares. Originality is great but it’s even better to actually scare people. This movie wasn’t either and I expected so much more from Joss Whedon.


Insidious seems at first like your typical haunted house story.  Couple with three young children move into a new home and weird things start to happen—whispers over the baby monitor, strange noises, things not where they should be, etc.

But then the son mysteriously falls into a coma—and there’s no possible medical reason for it.  And even after the family moves to a new house, the weird things continue.  In fact, they’re getting worse.

And there’s a good reason for that: their son (the one in the coma) is the one haunted, not the house.

I loved this movie.  It’s uber-scary, then takes a turn for the completely ridiculous (astral projection) and then gets scary again.  Part of it is because there’s a fantastic cast (Patrick Wilson, Rose Byrne and Barbara Hershey—and Lin Shaye, who was the English teacher in the original Nightmare on Elm Street) and part of it is because you can tell that James Wan loves scary movies and he wanted to make a good one, not necessarily just a profitable one.

This is such a fun and creepy movie.

The Hours

Recently my friend Tom and I had a discussion about the best films that show depression well.  I have a short list.

  1. Pi – Depression and mania populate this odd and disturbing Darren Aronofsky film.
  2. Mary and Max – Depression, Anxiety Disorders, Aspergers all shown so beautifully in this partially true claymation story about accidental pen pals.
  3. The Hours – Depression, See Below.
  4. Little Miss Sunshine – Seriously  Michael Scott  Steve Carell looks so weary and done with the world at the beginning it almost breaks my heart

The Hours is in my DVD library, and I am always astounded by it.

I was caught in the very beginning by the way the three stories are cut together over the repetitive and haunting Phillip Glass soundtrack. The piece is edited in such a way that you see these profound connections between the three streams before you even know how they are intertwined.  Flash from one person lying down on their side, to another waking up in the same position. Flowers put on the hall table, to flowers in another story.  Without telling you the whole story it is difficult to tell you just how this happens.  You should watch it.  It is well worth it.

The three streams come from different periods in time.  One is Virginia Wolfe, struggling with her crippling depression outside of the city of London. She’s played well here by Nicole Kidman, who doesn’t seem to mind becoming dowdy at all.  She looses her elegance, and pulls off a woman weighted down from the inside. She is beginning her last novel, Mrs. Dalloway.  Clarissa, Meryl Streep’s character, is a modern woman planning an epic party.  Her life, without her really embracing it, seems to be the very echo of the novel Wolfe is writing.  The third story is Julianna Moore’s character Laura, a 50’s era housewife pregnant with her 2nd child, and feeling life close in around her.

There is a nuanced conversation about life and sexuality in this movie.  It makes me want to go back and read the book to see if this is meant to be a current, or if was a liberty taken by the director.  Regardless, this movie is populated by a variety of seasoned and excellent actors and actresses.  Each does their part to hold taut the tension lines of the film.  Ed Harris’s haunting gaze from a disease riddled face so closely mimics the howling pain you see in the face of Laura’s 5 yr old boy, trying desperately to hold on to his mother as she slips from him.  It’s breathtaking to see that raw pain.  Every single time the conversation, between Virginia Wolfe and her husband, on the train platform catches me.  It reminds me of conversations I had with my mother, as she struggled so hard against the disease in her mind that took her hope from her.

I actually did take the time to learn the Phillip Glass pieces from this  movie.  Some time ask me, and I will play you into melancholy. Then we can watch this movie.  So good, but so very sad.

Florence and the Machine wrote a song about Virginia Wolfe and her opening act in this movie, filling her pockets with rocks, and walking into the river to end it all. It is called “What the Water Gave Me”. I’ll leave you with it today.  I’d say enjoy…but somehow that’s the wrong phrase.  Perhaps, let it get under your skin.  That’s what it, and this movie do to me.

Merryl Streep Month: Out of Africa

When I (Bekki) first saw this movie it was my senior year in High School.  I went to this parochial school for a Christian denomination that didn’t believe in dancing.  Ok it was a Mennonite School.  So instead of Prom we had “Banquet”. Yeah.  It was as good as it sounds.  Contrary to popular belief I was not exactly popular in school, but I did have some good friends, and we decided to skip the after banquet party for a lovely evening of conversation, and Out of  Africa.

Poor Meryl Streep.  She seems to get the rough end of about all the movie relationships she’s in.

When I saw this movie long ago I thought it grand in its scope, and sad in its relationships.  Now, after just finishing a degree focusing on Sub-Saharan Africa I find this movie to be much more nuanced than I originally figured.  Karen getting on her knees in order to find a place for the Kikuyu tribesfolk that worked for her was just so moving.  She thought she was so gracious and upright in the beginning of the film. By the time the movie was done she had been quite transformed by the people she worked with every day.  Didn’t see them as lesser at all, but as friends.  This, to me, was the stellar part of the film.  The weaving in of the interaction of the English colonists with the Kikuyu and the Massai peoples was so very good.  I liked that Denys’s character points out some of the ridiculous attitudes and actions.

Karen.  She was a feminist to the core.  She ran that farm while her husband took off to chase the wind. And yet she was so at the mercy of the men around her.  So frustrating.

I was captivated by her storytelling too.  Makes me want to do that with the little girls in my world.  Telling stories is a beautiful art.

Maybe I’ll just up and go to Kenya for my 40th birthday.  That really would be an adventure.  I could come back and tell the story.

“I once had a birthday in Africa….”

To Kill a Mockingbird

Bekki Here:
I would marry Atticus Finch. Atticus Finch looking like Gregory Peck? Pure bonus.
I think he is the literary man with the most integrity that I’ve ever read, or seen in my DVD player.
I don’t think I could do this film justice. Mostly because it awakens such a sense of justice in me. Every time I watch it I want to be a better person. I want to be a person of courage and integrity.
Things I loved.
Scout. Could she have been better portrayed? I think not. I love her innocence and delight in life. Her outrage at things that are wrong, and her wholehearted rushing in, even when she’s being stupid. A highlight for me is when she broke up the lynch mob at the jail by just being herself. It was such a picture of innocence bringing light to the darkness, and making men remember themselves again.
When Atticus goes to tell Tom’s widow that she was, well, a widow, I always am so impressed. His compassion causes him to see people as people. Even the white man whose false accusation set the whole thing in motion. He really is a good man.
The only thing that didn’t really gel with me is Boo Radley. The actor playing him did his well, he’s just not like I saw him in my head.

I may just have to own this film.

Bekki Makes Contact

Steve’s literary adaptation was the movie Contact based on the Karl Sagan book by the same name.

I’d seen this movie when it first came out in theaters.  It’s a good story. The despite the older technology depicted in it the movie was lush and captivating. I’m not going to lie though, I am not a big Matthew McConaughey fan.  It says something about the material that I didn’t hate him in this movie.

I am a bit of a science geek myself, and yet I struggle so much when people say (from both sides of the debate) that faith and science are mutually exclusive.  That’s not so much a position I espouse myself.  Anyway. I loved that this movie was, at its heart, a discussion of the collision between belief and science.  I loved that Ellie was on this journey from one side of the debate to the other.  She had to allow room for belief when proof was exhausted, and yet the very people who were adamant that faith was essential were the the ones who couldn’t take her testimony on faith.

Such a luscious and fascinating story.  Full of the great mysteries that are the origins of life and the universe.

I hadn’t seen this movie in a long time, and I am very glad that Steve made me watch it again.

Also, I’m not going to lie, it was very good to see David Morse play a good guy again.  He, like Sean Bean, usually gets cast in these cruel roles, because they do it so well, yet they play loving and compassionate so feelingly.

My favorite part in this film is during the opening salvo when you get further and further away from earth, and the broadcasts get fewer and fewer until there is radio silence.  So powerful an image. I love it.


Bekki on North by Northwest

[apparently this never posted originally.  I do apologize for the lateness.  I did write it back in the day]

There are two iconic Hitchcock movies that I had not seen before Flickbuddies.  The Birds (still unseen) and North by Northwest.  What a fun movie?  Cary Grant is so delightful, and the rest of the cast is dutifully creepy/sinister/funny/mysterious. Surprisingly the iconic moments, like that plane coming after Grant in the field, was eclipsed for me by the rest of the story.  I thought it was good, but not the most taut moment.  I really liked all the scenes in the house on the rock.  Classic Hitchcock missed connections, and breathtaking timing.

This movie had a myriad of things that caught my attention. For instance.  A large part of this movie takes place in my neck of the woods.

Michigan City, Niles, Dowagiac, Kalamazoo. Did you hear that folks?  That train literally goes right past my back door.

I also very much enjoyed Cary Grant’s smooth talking character.  Although when he was in the Chicago Hotel room in just his boxers, and was using the phone, his leg crossing was about the most effeminate I’ve seen in a very long time. I loved that the more angry he got, the more suave his conversation became. So very fun.

This was the first of our series where I actually saw the Hitchcock Cameo, in the opening sequence when the bus closed in his face.

Eva Marie Saint and her character are by far my favorites so far in this series.

I liked this movie a lot. It was well worth the hype.