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.


North by Northwest

Heading into my first movie as part of Flick Buddies, I knew a few things about North By Northwest. Of course, there’s the iconic poster showing Carey Grant (who I always remember Ginger Grant gushing over on Gilligan’s Island) being chased by a crop duster. There’s Alfred Hitchcock and all that his name and reputation entails. Meanwhile, the OnDemand synopsis talked about how a case of mistaken identity sends Grant’s character on a cross-country chase.

And so, I expected North By Northwest to be a dark thriller, with a lot of chase scenes. Instead, I was pleasantly surprised to find the tone a lot lighter than I expected. In fact, far from being what I expected from a Hitchcock film, North By Northwest was a fun, engaging flick. But as much as Hitchcock is, rightfully, lauded as a first-rate director, I think it was Grant’s performance than made this film as enjoyable as it is.

As North by Northwest starts, we meet Roger Thornhill, a suave and charming New York ad man. Over drinks in a restaurant, he’s mistaken for a “George Kaplan” by the henchmen of a foreign agent named Phillip Vandamm (James Mason) who disappoints me by never pointing to himself and chanting “P-V-D”.

Despite the best efforts of Vandamm’s henchmen (led by Lawrence, played by Martin Landau), Thornhill manages to escape, and sets out to the United Nations to confront Lester Townsend, who he thinks masterminded the scheme. Things go from bad to worse when, not only is Townsend not the mastermind, but he’s killed and Thornhill is deemed the culprit.

And so, with becoming the subject of a massive manhunt and the real killers out to get him, Thornhill sets out to find Kaplan and clear his name. Along the way, he meets Eve Kendall (played by the very beautiful Eva Marie Saint) who helps hide him from the police and, as you might expect, along the way the two fall for each other.

Of course, nothing is ever as simple as simply travelling from Point A to Point B, and everything falling into place. Our beautiful Miss Kendall has a secret of her own, and Kaplan isn’t so easy to find, as a government agency, led by the Professor (Leo G. Carroll) ensures.

There’s a lot to like about North by Northwest. There’s a great element of mystery and thriller to it, for sure, but I like to describe it as a light-hearted adventure.

Grant, showing why he was one of the best and most charming actor of his time, plays Thornhill as a man who manages to keep his cool while trying to solve the crime and get the girl. (The romantic storyline between Thornhill and Kendall is very sweet to watch and you root for them to find happiness in each other’s arms by the time the credits roll.) His character isn’t necessarily an “everyman” thrust into an unusual situation, more like Mad Men meets Enemy of the State.

North By Northwest certainly didn’t meet my expectations, but it is all the better for that.

For more information on this film, visit the Internet Movie Database at