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FILM REVIEWS: ‘What Happens in Vegas,’ ‘The Stone Angel,’ ‘Redbelt’


 

This weekend’s new releases include an air-headed Hollywood confection, an earnest CanLit adaptation, and some hard-boiled David Mamet. Like Tolstoy’s unhappy families, each of these films is troubled in its own way, but they all have their pleasures. The candy-floss comedy of What Happens in Vegas and the fight-club fetishism of Mamet ’s Redbelt both have quite preposterous plots. The difference is that Mamet is actually attempting realism and falling short—yet it is still the better movie. The Stone Angel, based on the classic Canadian novel by Margaret Laurence, has a narrative that remains dutifully plausible from start to finish, and it’s a bit of slog. Yet it’s as good as can be expected, given that it’s spun from the hide of a complex, interior narrative that resists adaptation with a stubbornness rivaling that of its heroine. And Christine Horne, making her film debut as the young Hagar Shipley, delivers a star-making performance.

What Happens in Vegas

What’s with all these movies about infantile grown men living in pigsties and mindlessly spoon-feeding themselves from massive bowls of cereal? Last month we had that doughboy Jason Segel in Forgetting Sarah Marshall and now Ashton Kutcher in What Happens in Vegas. Kutcher is blessed with a way better body, but Segel is blessed with a way better movie. What Happens In Vegas is a regression to the broad screwball formula of pre-Apatow romantic comedy. But no matter how smart or dumb the picture, the current rom-com generation of male leads seems weirdly stalled in adolescence—a phenomenon addressed by critic A.O. Scott in a bemused piece on the Hollywood zeitgeist in a last Sunday’s New York Times.

Abandoning my usual ethic of seeing movies with an open mind, I walked into What Happens in Vegas preparing to hate it, and spent most of the movie convincing myself that my hostility was justified. But these trashy Hollywood movies have a way insinuating themselves into whatever corner the cerebral cortex that guilty pleasures call home.

In this case, the residual pleasure are few and far between. The only real reason to watch this movie is to see the two stars bounce off each other. They both look quite adorable, especially Kutchner. (It’s nice to see him out of the cougar clutches of Demi Moore, and cavorting with a girl who’s just six years older than him.) And as they perform a slapstick kindergarten version of the warring courtship cliché, going at each other like a couple of puppy dogs, they actually look like they belong together.

The high-concept plot is so formulaic and predictable it feels more like software than script. Boy meets girl in Vegas as lives collide in a Cuisinart montage of symmetrical his-and-hers scenes: she gets dumped by her fiancé and he gets fired from a furniture factory by his father. In an one-night drunken whirl, they get married. Then, agreeing to divorce in the morning, he wins $3 million at a slot machine with her quarter. A sardonic judge (Dennis Miller doing thinly veiled stand-up) orders them to endure six months of marriage to claim the money, and submit to a counseling (by Queen Latifah on cruise control).

They squabble, connive and conspire, and we know where they’ll end up. Each is abetted by a best friend (Rob Corddry, Lake Bell). What Happens in Vegas is a case study of how a bad movie is just like a bad marriage. You wonder: why are you in it, why haven’t you walked out of it, and even though it’s hopeless why do you find things to love about it? Like a bad marriage, What Happens in Vegas makes us grateful for small mercies. A laugh here, a cute moment there. But we’ll hate ourselves in the morning.

)

The Stone Angel

The maddening thing about Hollywood formula is no matter how trite and silly and sentimental it gets, it does the job. The Stone Angel lacks that facile advantage. Instead it’s equipped with depth of character, literary pedigree, narrative integrity, and fine performances. Yet at times it feels like it’s struggling to be a movie. By that I don’t mean it’s too highfalutin or arty. On the contrary, as the story toggles between past and present with the stately rhythm of a CBC mini-series, it seems stolidly conventional.

But Canadian writer-producer-director Kari Skogland deserves credit for taking some chances with the material. To avoid the effect of a double-decker period film, she has shifted the time frame forward, so that the contemporary scenes take place in the present, rather than the 1960s, shoving the flashbacks up to the 1940s. Skogland described her film as the “sex, drugs and rock ‘n’ roll” version of The Stone Angel, a come-on that rather oversells the excitement. It’s not exactly The Stoned Angel. But in the ’40s storyline, newcomer Christine Horne does bring a ravenous, forthright sexuality to her courtship scenes with Cole Hauser, who’s cast as charismatic bad boy Bram Shipley, the dreamboat who congeals into Hagar’s deadbeat husband. And together they foment enough chemistry to make the film worth watching.

In the present-day narrative, the elderly and cantankerous Hagar (Ellen Burstyn) is being dumped into a nursing home against her will. Her son Marvin (Dylan Baker) tries to sugar-coat the pill, and she sees right through him. Burstyn’s acid performance is right on the money. Baker, however, accentuates Marvin’s slippery disposition with a stilted performance that produces one of the only false notes among the cast. Baker has a knack for playing squares in cool movies (Happiness, Kinsey), but here he’s seems a bit over-the-top and out of sync. Ellen Page also shows up, late in the game. She’s now such a big deal that you can watch a pirated clip of her barely-glimpsed sex scene on youtube. (No, I’m not going to embed it. Look it up.)

For my taste, everything about The Stone Angel is too nailed-down and on-the-nose. This is a movie that knows too well what it wants to be, and its self-satisfied feminist embrace of heroic womanhood lacks dramatic intrigue.

It’s interesting to compare The Stone Angel to Sarah Polley’s Oscar-nominated feature debut, Away from Her, which was adapted from a work by another female titan of CanLit, Alice Munro. Both dramas feature willful, elderly women who are stepping into the great void of institutional care, although Julie Christie’s character in Away From Her goes of her own accord. Both movies also have thorny backstories to unravel. But aside from their various merits, and distinctive qualities, there are a couple of key structural differences that gives Away From Her a better chance at being an engaging movie”

• In Away From Her, the story is rooted in one central relationship, a romance in which the man (Gordon Pinsent) more than holds his own. In The Stone Angel, no other character comes close to measuring up to Hagar, and the film suffers from the protagonist’s isolation.
• In Away From Her, the legacy of the past wells up in the contemporary narrative as a largely unseen and mysterious force, while the story remains firmly rooted in the present. The Stone Angel juggles twostorylines (past and present) of almost equal weight, which splits the viewer’s focus.

Instead of being invested in two characters engaged in a central relationship, with The Stone Angel we’re following two versions of one character in myriad relationships. Which makes for a more difficult movie. That said, even aside from the gratuitous physical resemblance between Burstyn and Horne, these two actress succeed in forging the illusion that they are one and the same woman. No small feat.

http://www.youtube.com/watch?v=iLhHFKVc4T4&feature=related

Redbelt

No one writes dialogue like Mamet.

Short. Pithy. Profane.

Makes Elmore Leonard look long-winded.

Reminds me of a great line by the late Canadian producer, Peter Simpson: “Let’s call a spade a fucking shovel.”

Mamet lays out lines of dialogue like a grouchy addict rationing lines of coke for unwelcome guests.

No one talks like that.

But the way they talk you’d swear they did.

Redbelt is Mamet’s martial arts movie.

The plot has holes you could lose yourself in for days.

Like he gives a shit.

He omits chunks of story the way he omits chunks of dialogue.

Not his problem. Let the viewer clean it up.

Mamet writes like someone settling a score. One that goes way back.

Best thing about Redbelt is Chiwetel Ejiofor (American Gangster, Children of Men). I could watch this guy forever, especially when he’s doing nothing. Not moving. Just weighing his next move.

Ejiofor plays a devoted Jiu-Jitsu master. On a dark and stormy night, his life changes with jagged strokes of happenstance. As if he’s struck by lightning. Though it’s just ordinary rain that night.

Emily Mortimer, as a strung-out woman battling to get into a closed pharmacy, sideswipes his car.

She barges into his Jiu-Jitsu studio to report it. How does she know it’s his car? Beats me.

She’s a mess. On what? Who knows. Drink, drugs, post-traumatic rape syndrome. You figure it out.

Mortimer’s character tumbles into a split-second fracas with a jiu-jitsu pupil, who’s a cop. His gun goes off in her hand and shatters the storefront window. Setting off a gang bang of ricochet events. A pinball narrative.

Mortimer is a lawyer and she wants to clean it up, for Ejiofor. Hard to say if she wants to represent him or fuck him. The script loses interest in her. She’s a girl. It’s a fight movie. Get used to it.

Ejivor’s character is pure. He won’t compete, says “competition is weakening.”

He’s got a line for everything, especially everything

— “Everything is a force–embrace it or deflect it.”

— “A man distracted is a man defeated.”

— “Control your emotion.”

— “Insist on the move.”

Before it’s over, we know the fighter who doesn’t want to fight is gonna have to do more than talk.

His grasping Brazilian wife (Alice Braga) has had it with talk. She wants to pay the rent.

Enter Big Dirty Money, and the banshee whores of showbiz, via another random incident: violating his no-fight creed, Ejiofor rescues a jaded star of action movies from a vicious bully who provokes him in a bar.

The movie star (Tim Allen—“I drink too much, I fool around”) takes a shine to his rescuer, but he’s more corrupt than sin. He’s connected.

A sleazy fight promoter (Ricky Jay) wants Jiu-jitsu boy to drop his pride and mix it up in mixed marital arts. He’s another guy with a lot of lines about everything:

“Like everything in life, the money’s in the rematch.”

“We need a gimmick. . . black against white, Irish against Jew, a racial grudge match. Give me some velocity. Velocity. Otherwise it’s just two monkeys in the ring.”

Push comes to shove in an Ultimate Fighting tournament. The gimmick: an old Japanese samurai offering a prize belt to the winner, and a handicapping stunt involving black and white marbles.

There will be blood.

Our Jiu-Jitsu purist will have to get his hands dirty, and cleanse his soul.

A Zen Rocky moment. Redbelt is a martial arts movie by a showbiz guy who loves martial arts and hates showbiz. He loves that about himself.

It’s about a contest between intelligence strength, leveraged by sleight of hand.

The fight is fixed.

So is the movie.

Deal with it.

)


 

FILM REVIEWS: ‘What Happens in Vegas,’ ‘The Stone Angel,’ ‘Redbelt’

  1. Okay, let us assume that Chapter 11 protection is not available. Why not use the government funds to provide the credit that would normall be provided under Chapter 11. This would let the “good” parts of GM/Ford survive and pare away the deadwood.
    I think the big thing that the Detroit Three need to do is ditch brands, ditch cars and streamline themselves. They are still basing themselves on the outmoded model that people start with a Chevy., move up to Buick and end with Cadillac.
    Toyota sells 17 makes. GM sells 51. How can any organistion sell that many vehicles and ensure quality, good design etc? Even 17 is getting up there (and Toyota’s quality is suffering a little)

  2. Tax payer’s money to help union workers, who continue to strike for more money, to stay in business? The big three have failed. Ignorant to the needs of the public for which they need help, continually building gas guzzling trucks and cars and not paying attention to the global market. Toyota and Honda had their shit together from the start and continue to produce gas efficient superior quality cars and truck. Bailout is not the answer. My tax paying dollars to help the big three?

  3. The auto industries and the financial sector are just the tip of the iceberg. Look at our own government. We are in worse financial shape then all of the above combined. The US Treasury is fundamentally bankrupt. Spending far exceeds income. Other big expenses like retired government employees,Social Security,Medicare and Medicare two wars financed with barrowed funds and the prescription Drug program all are not adequately funded. I’m very much afraid our currency is about to collapse. I heard where China and Japan two of our largest creditors are in trouble to and may ask us to start repaying our loans so they can solve there own problems. When the rest of the world starts to cut off our credit look out because the end of life as we know it will come to a climatic end.
    Thats about all of the good news I have for today….Boy am I scared!

  4. GM. must have been embarrassed showing their gas guzzlers at the Paris Auto Show, with all other manufacturers showing fuel efficient small ones.
    NO, I think a bail out will not be the answer, they need a complete overhaul.
    Twenty-five billion dollars would only keep their private jets running.

  5. I think we need to be very careful about bailing out the industry. There is something that will happen within a few years as we move to hybrid and electric that a lot of people out there do not apreciate about the electric vehicle and the real reason chevy crushed the ev-1. Right now the money maker in the auto business is not the vehicle but the after market, maintenance, repair, oil changes, ras flushes and thousands of moving parts! …. however … an electric vehicle has 1 big moving part the rotor inside a large magnet – once we convert to electric vehicles there will be no need for hundreds of thousands of mechanics, lube and oil shops, exhaust muffler shops etc etc etc – if we start throwing money at a temporary fix it will only be delaying the inevitable. What is needed here is what we did with the railway offer a couple of million dollars to the canadian company that can come up with a canadian electric vehicle that makes sense and is affordable make sure it’s rechargable.

  6. I bought my last General Motors car, an Oldsmobile Omega, in 1980. It was the worst car I ever owned, obviously put together by people not concerned about what my next car would be. One wonders how a company that pioneered an automatic transmission so good that it could be taken out of the crate and bolted unmodified to a Rolls Royce, could come up with an 1980 automatic that failed twice in normal service – not to mention a radiator that sprung a leak while I was at work and left green blood all over the parking lot, brake pads that broke up and dropped out of the car in its second year, rear drum brakes one of which locked up regularly, making winter driving a nightmare.

    I said then that GM was going to fail and it looks like will, for good reason. GM is incapable of making reliable, economical, low maintenance cars. Chrysler and Ford have similar records. (I once owned a 1987 Plymouth which was rated by some sources as the worst car built in America – mine was not as unreliable as the Omega however)

    I have no sympathy for a company that found it necessary to squander billions on building a battery-operated EV-1 car that millions of people would have loved to own (and trashed them) when there are thousands of GM Geo Metros converted to battery-electric operation for a few thousand dollars that perform about as well.

    Did everyone designing 6 litre Escalades, Hummers, 4-wheel drivers, 2.5 ton vans and SUVs at the big 3 fail to see the oil crisis coming? What were they thinking while Toyota became the biggest and probably the best car company in the world?

    If governments have to bail out these companies, they should confine support to battery-operated cars, battery-operated Hybrids (like Chevy Volt) and low displacement gas and diesel cars. Governments should abandon the dinosaurs and the people who design and build them – before the only decent automobiles of this type are imported cars.

  7. I’ll pick up where John left off about dictating how the big 3 use any bail out cash. I was just laid off along with 400 co-workers who supplied the big 3. Our European corporate parent thinks Mexico & China are the only place to manufacture cost effectively plus it’s where our customers want to buy from.
    We would quote assemblies to the big 3 at fair prices, I’d say the average value of our finished modules was $20 and very competitive with good quality and full engineering support. I don’t know how many buyers from our customer base would mandate that we move some of our major tool building or parts off shore to China so we could get the price down a buck? Usually it wan’t a savings. either if there was quality spill and you needed fast correction to a problem. We would ask them the same question everytime “where are your kids & grandkids going to work” you keep shipping out jobs to save a buck.
    The response was always the same “that’s not a concern our job is to get this part as cheap as possible”. Good luck retiring on that beaten down retirement fund and don’t look to your unemployed kids for help either. You did a great job saving those bucks?
    People from all walks of life are going to have to start taking a hard look at building and buying North American, it may cost a bit more but it keeps your neighbour working. Don’t get fooled buying the North American built Honda or Toyota either, they only provide 1.5 jobs / car where the big 3 vehicles provide 7 jobs / vehicle. On the other hand North American manufactures are going to have to look hard at providing the best products and services in the world if they want customer loyalty. Toyota and Honda didn’t win the car war in a year, they did 1% per year for the last 30 years. They washed customers cars, admitted they had a problem and fixed it for free plus eliminated it on future models which equals happy repeat customer loyalty which equals jobs.
    If the government really wanted to send one message to the big 3 besides building something everybody will buy I would tell the big three they must buy all their parts within NAFTA borders unless it has to come from a unique source outside NAFTA. China is not an option!

  8. We need to remember that the CAW, the teaher’s unions, the welders union etc formed a powerful coalition known as the Working Families. Their objective was to get McGuinty elected in return for government support of their unions. With this in mind can we trust McGuinty to behave with integrity regarding the use of tax payers money? And will a bail out mean anything in real terms or will it simply buy a few extra hours on the Titainic at the cost of one less life boat?

  9. I happened into a Chrysler dealership this week. There in the centre of the showroom floor, on a raised stage was a 2009 Dodge Challenger Hemi. 5.7L, 375hp. It gets 16mpg and requires premium gas.

    Are we really going to bail out these idiots?

    As I said to my wife yesterday, I took a professional degree and can only count on my own savings for retirement…now I’m expected to fund the retirement of people who will retire earlier than me, have better benefits, and make more money for bolting in seats?

    in the end, we may have to…but there’d better be some serious strings attached.

  10. Toyota, Honda, BMW…these are all North American car companies. Let GM, Ford, and Chrysler become the Studebaker, Nash-Rambler, and International Harvester of the 21st Century! And let the UAW clowns find their place in line down at the unemployment office.

  11. It’s unfortunate Darden Cavalcade feels it neccessary to call people clowns and not intelligently discussing the issue of his future. Without the Auto Industry in North America the employment lines will turn into welfare lines. Who does he thinks pays for welfare, his taxes if he’s working. The following article is one of interest and I attempted to cut and paste it so it would fit into the comment box. It’s hard to believe Darden’s comment on these companies being American with following statistic.

    TAKE A SPECIAL NOTE:

    CNN Headline News did a short news listing regarding Ford and GM’s
    contributions to the Sept. 11, 2001 relief and recovery efforts in New York
    and Washington.

    The findings are as follows…..

    1. FORD – $1 million to American Red Cross matching employee contributions
    of the same number plus 10 Excursion vehicles to NY Fire Dept. The company also
    offered ER response team services and office space to displaced government
    employees.

    2. GM – $1 million to American Red Cross matching employee contributions of
    the same number and a fleet of vans, suv’s, and trucks..

    3. Daimler Chrysler – $10 million to support of the children and victims of
    the Sept. 11 attack.

    8. BMW – Nothing

    18. Toyota – Nothing despite claims of high sales in July and August 2001.

    11. Honda – Nothing despite boasting of second best sales month ever in
    August 2001

    Whenever the time may be for you to purchase or lease a new vehicle,
    you might want to give more consideration to a car manufactured by an
    American-owned and / or American based company.

    Apart from Hyundai and Volkswagen, the foreign car companies contributed
    nothing at all to the citizens of the United States . It’s OK for these
    companies to take money out of this country, but it is apparently not acceptable to
    return some in a time of crisis. We should not forget things like this. Say thank you in a
    way t hat gets their attention

  12. Is it just me…or does no one see that the high gas prices is the cause for all of this economic turmoil in norht america? Why is no one attacking those in control of the prices? These large oil companies are getting away with murder…while we squabble over whose back we shouldn’t scratch!!! Wake up people!!! we need to hold the right people accountable for our plight!

  13. Alain, it’s you; you might want to get out of the house and wander by a gas station. Gas prices have plummeted. Bloody colluding oil companies gouging us with 80-90 cent per litre gasoline. Pay no attention to actual common sense, and to how much of that litre’s price goes to taxes, and you might actually nod your head in ignorant agreement to the previous insane sentence.

  14. Joe, why should Canadians care what foreign automakers donated to help with a particular foreign disaster?

    My tip: buy the car that is the best value to you, and donate the savings to the charity of your choice.

  15. It’s a real shame that the auto industry is in the state it now is. While it’s been declining over here in Europe where our manufacturers all fell by the curb or were consumed by the larger groups, the hike in in oil prices and recessions have been seen before and from them companies emerged victorious. Wasn’t Chrysler the definition of phoenix from the ashes before?

    While there’s no Iacocca there should be someone in charge up at the top of these companies that has a sharp enough eye to use this as a motivator for change? This should be the case across the board, what are Presidents of these companies doing if they’re not preparing contingencies?

    The industry has certainly become bloated and lost touch with the needs of many consumers but I’m sure that it can salvage itself.

  16. It is time for Canada to have our own national car !

  17. Die USA haben da wirklich was verschlafen, besoders Chrysler GM und Ford gehören zu den neuen Entwicklungsländern was die Produktion von Benzin sparenden Autos angeht. Da bleibt sicher lich nur der neidische Blick nach Japan, Korea als auch nach Europa und das auf Kosten der Arbeitsplätze

    • Das letzte gute amerikanischeAuto wurden in1966 gebaut. Ford Fairlane 500, 289 cu.in. v8, manual transmission, 24 mpg.

  18. Ich bin der selben Meinung wie MPU. Also hier bei den deutschen Autoherstellern wird schon viel in Richtung spritsparende und umweltfreundliche Autos geforscht. Und auch in Japan sind sie sehr bemüht.
    Die amerikanischen Autokonzerne sollten auf diesen Zug aufspringen, damit sie ihn nicht verpassen und nachher mit leeren Händen dastehen.

  19. Die Usa wird noch schnell nachziehen müssen, es lohnt sich ja auch finanziell sehr, schließlich ist die usa angeblich ja immer weiter mit der forschung ectr. als Deutschland

  20. Jap.
    Es wird Zeit das die Spritschleudern endlich verschwinden. Ich frag mich wie sich die Amerikaner das Autofahren überhaupt noch leisten können – also ich dreh hier durch bei unseren Spritpreisen und bin froh das mein Auto "nur" 7,8l schluckt. Bei meinem alten Auto waren es satte 11l.
    Opel hatte ja schon recht gute Patente zwecks Spritverbrauch. Liegen die jetz nich bei GM?
    Man kann echt nur hoffen, dass GM, Chrylser und co. endlich auf den Zug aufspringen.

  21. Sprit sparen wird in Zukunft immer wichtiger

  22. Sprit sparen ist bei den heutigen Preisen wohl das betse.

  23. Hallo, ich bin derselben meinung wie auch MPU und andere. Die Deutschen sind ganz weit vorne mit den spritsparenden Autos, auch wenn sie sicher noch mehr tun könnten

  24. Sprit sparen ist echt angesagt bei den Preise an den Zapsäulen

  25. Ich lebe schon seit 20 Jahren in Deutschland und sehe jedes Jahr eine Steigerung der Automobilindustrie. Besonders Ford gestaltet neue schöne Sportwagen wie der Ford Focus.

  26. Thanks for News on this Blog, very Nice Collection. Thank you

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