Yesterday, I watched the Angelina Jolie flick Salt for about an hour before turning it off in a fit of apathy. Here’s what I remember:
- Salt’s an agent or something.
- Salt betrayed somebody, or maybe somebody betrayed her. I checked my phone a lot.
- There was a foot chase through the city that might have been compelling had it not seemed so fake. Lots of green screen and stunt doubles and stuff that was clearly filmed on a closed set. It was dull.
- At one point, a Russian dude tells a backstory involving Lee Harvey Oswald and some other stuff. It was such an odd little sequence that I kinda noticed it. Good job, Salt!
- The film opens with bad guys pinning Angelina Jolie down in her bra and panties. I don’t know how you make that boring, but by Jove, they did it.
- Salt is one of those movies that tries to get you involved by having no sense of humor whatsoever. YouEverything is very serious and important. I think Liev Schreiber made a couple of wisecracks, but he was so slurry and frowny you didn’t even notice. You’re telling me this movie couldn’t have been improved by Angelina Jolie killing somebody then saying, “You just got Salted!” C’mon.
- Or maybe “YOU JUST BEEN SALTED, PEANUT!”
- One of the Nazis from Inglourious Basterds plays a German spider hunter (?) that is Angelina Jolie’s love interest. It’s funny watching their love “blossom”, with the Nazi showing off his spiders and Jolie making a big-eyed pout that apparently is supposed to be an expression of happiness, but it comes across as a robot being intrigued by human behavior. “The human…heats my circuits. Beep Boop Beep Ba-Doop.”
- That was a perfect robot impression.
- And now we’re at 10. Go away forever, Salt.
A while back, I talked about The Walking Dead, and briefly alluded to Boardwalk Empire, another show that I thought was deeply flawed and wildly overpraised. Since Boardwalk Empire isn’t about zombies and features lots of well-known film actors, it’s a virtual lock to win Best TV Drama at The Emmys. Anything with a film pedigree gives Emmy voters a hard-on, and when your show is produced by Martin Scorcese, they may as well just send you the award now. I can already imagine the sycophantic caterwauling that will take place in viewing rooms throughout LA during voting time. (Does TV have an academy? Maybe it’s more like a nice community college.)
However, Boardwalk Empire has ultimately left me cold. It has several terrific elements going for it: An intriguing tale of gangsters and corruption set during an actual historical period, production values that are unparalleled on television (save for HBO’s new Game of Thrones), and a cast filled with ringers, from Michael Shannon to Kelly McDonald to Michael Pitt to Gretchen Mol to Michael Williams to Michael Stuhlbarg to Steve Buscemi..
Ah yes, Buscemi. Buscemi plays Nucky Thompson, a criminal kingpin that rules Atlantic City with an iron fist. Thompson is a ruthless power broker that’s able to bed any dame that he sees. I repeat, this character is played by Steve Buscemi. I have nothing against Buscemi, and I get that he’s luring his women with power, but when Paz De La Huerta (whose main skill as an actress seems to be performing naked) is draped all over the Sheemster, there’s a cognitive dissonance there that I can’t wrap my mind around. This site I just discovered doesn’t help, either.
Buscemi’s a fantastic actor, and I have no doubt he could beat the crap out of me (dude WAS a firefighter, after all), but he doesn’t have the imposing presence that I’m used to seeing out of my fictional crime lords. Maybe I was spoiled by James Gandolfini.
It doesn’t help that Michael Shannon’s on the show, and his evil, crazy-eyed glare threatens to burn a whole in my TV each time he’s on the screen. Even in this instance, the casting feels odd to me, mainly because Michael Shannon is playing a cartoon character, a loonball madman that wouldn’t be on the streets, much less in the FBI. Unfrozen Caveman Lawyer was a more realistic depiction of someone involved in the legal system.
The best moment of the season came from a speech by Michael Williams (OMAR!) about his father building shelves. It was one of the best seasons of the last year on TV, and while the second half of the season picked up, I must confess: That’s the only dialogue I remember from the season. After that, Williams didn’t even really do much, I don’t think. Despite my reservations about the casting, the real flaw of Boardwalk Empire is simple: I remember the production design more than I remember the storylines.
Random thoughts from a day watching movies:
– The day started as I turned on Netflix & started to watch “Tokyo Story” by Yasujiro Ozu. It’s considered one of the greatest films ever made. I lasted 13 minutes before turning it off and resolving to watch it later. It kinda bums me out knowing that I’m simply not going to see all of the great films because I don’t have the patience. Same with “Lawrence of Arabia.”
– I turned off this classic of world cinema and turned on another one, John Carpenter’s “Escape From New York.” “Escape” was probably pretty badass in 1981. But holy hell, is it bad today. BAD.
For starters, Kurt Russell’s voice is hilarious. He does THE RASPY GROWWWLLLL Bale-in-Batman style, but his balls haven’t quite dropped yet, so it’s really nasally and silly. Don’t get me wrong, I’m a Kurt Russell fan, but his voice isn’t there yet. He’d get the voice right in later films, though. I’m guessing he heard himself in this and freaked out.
Ernest Borgnine’s in it too, acting all loopy.
– After going 0-for-2, I decided to rewatch something I knew I’d love, Burn After Reading, one of the Coens’ most underrated films. Darkly funny and vicious, I think this movie went over most people’s heads, because the suspenseful music caused the audience to think something would happen, but the events that occur are all a results of the characters’ boneheaded stupidity. The Coens have been accused of hating their characters, which I disagree with…save for maybe this film. It’s an intelligence/espionage thriller featuring characters with no intelligence or espionage skills. Because each person has their own self-absorbed motives at play, no one is able to communicate, and soon, people are getting shot in the face. I love Burn After Reading.
– I may write more about it later, but I’m still thinking about Seven Samurai after watching my blu-ray of it last week. A perfect film, one that belongs in the “greatest ever” discussion. Also, to paraphrase August Strindberg: the blu-ray transfer is retarded.
The 1991 film soleil thriller The Grifters contrasts seedy crime hijinx and hints of perversion with the sunshine of California. Based on a Jim Thompson book, The Grifters tells the story of three con artists at different levels of their craft. John Cusack plays a small-time con who’s dating a huckster played by the then-HOTTTTT Annette Bening. Seriously, Bening is smokin’ in this. Plus, she’s naked a lot. I can’t stress this enough, Filmmakers: If you want me to like your movie, throw some boobies in there.
Anjelica Huston plays Cusack’s mom, who works for a kingpin. Soon, the threesome’s naturally treacherous ways cause their paths to collide, leading to a climactic conversation that’s perversely tragic. Or is it tragically perverse? I don’t know. Either way, it was sad and grossed me out a little.
Huston and Bening were nominated for Oscars for their roles. Huston is a force of nature, and her surprising scene with the kingpin (played with oily menace by Pat Hingle) adds a layer of depth that lots of mediocre movies don’t bother with. Cusack is seemingly the protagonist for most of the film, but fittiingly, the film pulls a fast one, and we realize that Huston was our hero (if you can call it that) all along.
The film was produced by Martin Scorcese,and the story’s melodrama, violence, and dark intelligence are write up the master’s alley. Check it out…Or don’t!
Let the Right One In was one of the best films of 2008, the only tolerable thing featuring vampires to come out in years. Half-horror film, half-perverse coming of age tale, this Swedish masterpiece by Tomas Alfredsson is one of the best foreign films to come out in years. Naturally, it was so good, it demanded a spiffed-up American equivalent!
That’s not to say Let Me In is bad, far from it. There are some nice touches, and it also trims a couple of subplots from the original that seemed left over from the original John Ajvide Lindqvist novel, in a way that I think effectively streamlines the film without sacrificing the story. It also contains one of the most amazing sequences of last year, which wasn’t in the original film. You’ll know it when you see it.
I also liked the casting. Both kids are effective, although lacking the unique chemistry of the kids from the original. Of course, that was a one-of-a-kind thing that’s difficult to replicate, but I applaud their efforts. It also features the great Richard Jenkins and Elias Koteas in supporting roles, and they do well with what little they have to work with.
Still, the film is needlessly “Americanized” in annoying ways. For starters, the film opens with the now-standard in media res opening, showing us a scene that will happen later in the movie in order to build suspense. It used to be an interesting form of storytelling, but more and more, the in media res scene is mainly used to say, “Hey, Lazy American Viewer That’s Probably Texting As You Watch This In The Theater, don’t worry, after all the boring, talky character-building stuff, things will get bloody, we promise!”
Let Me In also features a musical score designed to tell you everything you’re supposed to be feeling at all times, with non-stop boomy bass tones and foreboding strings. It also features some of the worst CGI I’ve seen in a while. It really blows, and effectively ruins every sequence involving scary vampire mayhem. The choice of CGI in these scenes makes no sense; is it really that much cheaper to turn a scene into a cheap video game? You can’t buy two buckets of corn syrup and call it a day?. A vampire biting people in the neck demands practical effects and squirting blood, but instead it’s an uninvolving cartoon. Ugh. The CGI also pretty much ruins the climactic scene, which is a pale shadow of the original, which you can view here if you’re not one of those “WHA DON’T SPOIL ME” goofs.
Another annoying thing: The whole film is relentlessly dark, unlike the clean, white, snowy look of the original. It tries to be foreboding, but it’s just murky. At one point, we see a kid in a swimming class, and the kids are practicing in a swimming pool area with all of the lights turned off. Wha? Also, the filmmakers inexplicably changed location to New Mexico, which is known for its snow, I guess? I have no idea why they made the location Los Alamos. The only way you know the story is set there is because of the opening title and a couple of signs. It’s a goofy choice.
Let Me In is worth seeing; it’s still better than a lot of films from last year, which is pretty much the faintest praise ever. If you have to choose, though, see the original; Let Me In has the right beats, but it doesn’t seem to understand the music of the original.