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Doing the math
July 12, 2012 - Rick Chatenever
By RICK CHATENEVER (email@example.com) For The Maui News
Game-changing filmmaker Quentin Tarantino, 49, has observed that film directing is a young man's game. The guys who directed the two movies I saw last weekend do the math differently.
Oliver Stone, 65, directed "Savages." Based on Don Winslow's sardonic tale of Mexican drug wars spilling over the U.S. border, it stars Blake Lively, 24; Taylor Kitsch, 31, and Aaron Johnson, 22.
"To Rome with Love" was written and directed by Woody Allen, 76. Its stars include Jesse Eisenberg, 29, and Ellen Page, 25, although Allen also co-stars in the cast featuring Penelope Cruz, Alec Baldwin, Roberto Benigni and other people more age appropriate.
Oliver Stone was a young man at the same time I was. We first met in New York in 1986, in the Plaza Hotel. (I say "first met" since it sounds so much better than "the only time I met Oliver Stone was in 1986")
The occasion was an Orion Pictures junket for Stones "Platoon," a powerful Viet Nam War reverie starring a 21-year-old Charlie Sheen in a cast also featuring a fairly invisible Johnny Depp, then 23. "Platoon" would go on to win four Oscars, including one for Stones direction and another for best picture.
The fiery filmmaker whose '60s classmates at Yale had included John Kerry, Dick Cheney and George W. Bush, would proceed to rewrite America's cultural history in the 20th century in such films as "Wall Street," "The Doors," "JFK" and "Natural Born Killers."
Stone thrives on controversy and political statements, even if youre not always sure what he's stating.
Elizabeth Banks, who played Laura Bush in his 2008 biopic "W.," described the director as "one of the greats" at the Maui Film Festival last month. But I sometimes wondered whether he and I had lived through the same '60s and '70s and '80s together, or if his films were doorways to his own parallel reality.
Now that it's 2012, he's working through his late midlife issues onscreen, letting his camera linger on Lively in the throes of passion with her beach-volleyball-toned co-stars in their sun-drenched, drug-fueled conviction that true love goes three ways.
The guys fall under the heading of what the current campaign season would call small businessmen. Since their small business happens to be producing the most potent marijuana in California, it has its benefits but there's also a downside when a Mexican cartel proposes a, uh, merger.
"Savages" walks a wobbly tightrope between sensuality, sadism and sarcasm. In an industry where beheadings and torture are just the cost of doing business, the film's tone veers between over-the-top violence and some very dark moments of hilarity, from one scene to the next.
It helps to have scene-stealing John Travolta and Salma Hayek along to add cynical laughter to the frequent bloodbaths. But as opposed to the master of this savage domain he once was, director Stone now seems more like a slightly baffled tourist, not quite sure what hes witnessing.
Woody Allen is making a second career out of being a tourist. Literally. Once a neurotic film genius afraid to set foot outside of New York, he has more lately filmed in London, Barcelona and most successfully in France, where his sublime "Midnight in Paris" was his biggest box-office hit, his latest Oscar winner and his best work in decades.
Continuing in the Woody Allen meets Rick Steves mode, he goes to Rome to concoct celluloid gelato. His series of sometimes amusing vignettes revolves around his usual themes of love, lust, death and whining, turned into one-liners in English and Italian.
With "Volare" on the soundtrack, Allen crafts whimsical celluloid short stories, not worrying about little things like continuity to tie them together. He casts Baldwin as a world-weary older version of Eisenberg; Cruz as a voluptuous hooker wiser than her clients; himself as an aging opera producer with questionable taste; and Benigni as an office worker who wakes up one morning to discover he's famous. In "To Rome with Love," everyone gets 15 minutes of La Dolce Vita.
Allen pays sly homage to great director Federico Fellini, who added Celebrity to the Seven Deadly Sins in his countryman Dante's "Divine Comedy." But even throwing those numbers into the grand total, it looks like when audiences went to the movies last weekend, they did the math and came up with the same answer as Quentin Tarantino.
* Contact Rick Chatenever at firstname.lastname@example.org
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