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Movie Reviews: ‘Savages,’ ‘People Like Us’ and ‘To Rome With Love’
BY ROB HEDELT
THE FREE LANCE-STAR
3 of 4 stars
BLAKE LIVELY, TAYLOR KITSCH, AARON JOHNSON, BENICIO DEL TORO, JOHN TRAVOLTA, SALMA HAYEK
Though this is longer than it needs to be—hey, it is an Oliver Stone movie—this film keeps you on the edge of your seat with its mix of sex, violence and the search for a new sort of American dream.
The love triangle at the center of things feels a bit forced at first, but the two pals who fall for the same gal are an interesting pair.
One’s a botanist who’s made the world’s most potent marijuana. The other, his business partner, is the soldier back from Iraq who is the brawn to the other’s brain.
Blake Lively is a bit of an airhead as the girl they share, but she manages to be endearing as part of a story that includes kidnapping, murder, bizarre violence, bribery and more.
In someone else’s hands, this might feel too flaky, but Stone is nothing if not a solid, confident director. He lets the story unfold with just the right amount of intrigue, tension and violence to keep things hopping. He also keeps the theme intact and at the forefront: Just what makes people savages?
Is it murder? Is it intense violence? Or is it taking advantage of everyone around you to make money from their misfortune?
It’s especially interesting when one killer is trying to decide whether another is a savage, only to have the tables turned.
The cast is strong, with Benicio Del Toro deliciously evil as a hit man, John Travolta as a crooked FBI agent and Salma Hayek as the head of the Mexican drug cartel trying to take over the California guys’ business.
And the ending? Well, it’s different from anything you’ve ever seen. That’s a good thing.
Rated R for strong brutal and grisly violence, some graphic sexuality, nudity, drug use and language throughout 129 min. [MC, PV, RA]
“PEOPLE LIKE US” (PG-13)
3 of 4 stars
CHRIS PINE, ELIZABETH BANKS, MICHELLE PFEIFFER
Not all movie fans like Chris Pine, but this role takes him beyond the realm of action films to a performance with some meat on its bones.
And Elizabeth Banks? Well, I think she’s one of the most under-praised actresses working today. Yet again, she delivers a sweet and strong performance.
It takes a while to get this film where it needs to be, but we’re eventually immersed in a compelling story about a dysfunctional family dealing with a not-so-nice father who has passed away.
Pine’s character, estranged from his dad, manages to delay his return home to miss the funeral.
But he can’t avoid the next chore he’s given—getting a bundle of money to the sister he never knew he had.
When he meets her (Banks), the upset brother can’t tell her immediately who he is, but slowly manages to integrate himself into her life.
It’s a tale that is sweet and tender by turns, with a nice performance turned in by Michelle Pfeiffer as the mother who may or may not know her deceased husband had another child.
Rated PG-13 for language, some drug use and brief sexuality. 115 min. [MC, RA, PV]
“TO ROME WITH LOVE” (R)
3 of 4 stars
WOODY ALLEN, JESSE EISENBERG, ALEC BALDWIN, PENÉLOPE CRUZ, ROBERTO BENIGNI
This is less a movie than several little vignettes about people in Rome having either romantic, funny or sexual adventures in the Italian city of love.
Woody Allen is a great filmmaker with a cutting comic touch. There are moments of brilliant humor here, none better than Roberto Benigni playing an ordinary man who becomes famous for being famous and nothing more. The way the media follow him around, for no reason at all, is a great take on all the pompous and unworthy folks who steal our attention.
More fun is a young couple who come to Rome to make a new life. She wanders off, gets lost and comes close to having an affair with a famous actor. He mistakenly ends up with a beautiful prostitute (the delightful Penélope Cruz) and learns about love from a master.
Another pair of young lovers almost lose their romance when Alec Baldwin tries to help them survive the intrusion of a pretty visitor.
A fourth vignette follows a mother and father flying to Rome to meet their daughter’s fiancée. The groom’s father happens to deliver amazing operatic performances in the shower, so Allen’s character puts him on stage in a shower. (It’s better than it sounds.)
The whole thing is delivered with the sweet, wry touch you expect from Allen.
Like they say, when in Rome, do as the lovers do.
Rated R for some sexual references. 112 min. [RF]