Do con-men and women really look this dashing? If so, I’m not cut-out for the job.
Lilly Dillon (Huston) is a veteran con artist who begins to rethink her life when her son Roy (Cusack), a small-time grifter, suffers an almost-fatal injury when hit with a thrust from the blunt end of a baseball bat, right after a failed scam. However, she doesn’t realize that her boy has fixed himself up with a dame (Annette Bening) that may not seem to be all that she appears to be.
Calling this movie a “thriller” would not be doing it any justice, and I’m still contemplating on whether or not it’s the good type of justice, or the bad. Good, mainly because it has you siked and ready for a story about a trio of cons that never tell the truth, always seem like they’re up to something, and always know to make a little extra-dough by playing to cool, but at the same time, bad, because it has you siked and ready for a story about a trio of cons that never tell the truth, always seem like they’re up to something, and always know to make a little extra-dough by playing to cool. See, it’s not the type of film about cons that you’d expect. It’s not filled with a big-heist, it’s not filled with thrilling suspense and action to hold you over, and it’s not even really filled with that many twists or turns. Instead, it’s sort of like the day-time soap opera version of a movie about cons and that’s both good, and bad. It’s very love-hate with me here, and I think you’re about to find that out.
The problem I ran into with this flick was that I feel like it would be going-on in such a slow, tedious-pace that it almost felt deliberate. Most movies that have this slow pace, usually do it for the same reasons that this flick did it, but it works a lot better for them since it’s exactly how the story should be told and judges how effective it will be to the viewer. However, with a story/movie like this, the slower-pace doesn’t quite work as well as it might think and continued to piss me off, because every time the film felt like it was really getting somewhere and picking-up itself and all of the pieces it was leaving on the ground, it would just stop, take a moment to pause, and jog it’s way through.
It was like me in a 5k mile run. I start off so perfectly, then I realize I put too much energy into the first 5 minutes, then I decide to slow things down, almost to the point of where I begin to walk, then, I get some inspiration and energy in my step and begin to run again, and then so-on, and so-forth, all up-until I get to the finish-line and everybody treats me like I just cured cancer, even despite me coming in 2nd to last place. Okay, maybe that’s not exactly how it goes with me (I obviously always win those runs, obviously…), but that’s how I felt with this flick and I feel like director Stephen Frears was just toying with me on-purpose. In some ways that works and makes the flick seem less predictable as it strings along, but in other ways, it just feels cheap and sort of like the director wants to be like the characters and play a sick, cat-and-mouse game that some people may not be too happy with in the end when they find out what’s to come of it all.
However, I can’t hate on Frears too much because no matter how slow and languid the pace got, I was always interested in seeing what was going to happen next. The story definitely takes it’s fair-share of detours into the past and they are definitely what feature the most energy and fun of the whole flick, but whenever it focuses on these characters, what they’re doing now, how they’re getting their money, and who’s playing who, the film still stays fun, if not all that energetic as the flashback sequences. Seeing cons do their thing like no other is always a blast to see on-screen and rather than just having it be a flick that exposes trick-after-trick, we get more of a balanced look at how broken and dull some of these cons lives are, and how money cannot buy them happiness and instead, only buys them more trouble. You actually care for these characters and that’s only what raises the stakes even more when the unpredictable-factor of this story comes into play, and you feel like you have no idea where it’s going to go or how, you just know that somebody is playing somebody. Then again, when you think about life and all that is: aren’t we all?
Okay, away from the philosophical ramblings of a 19-year-old film critic, back to the movie at-hand here. Yeah, the Grifters. I think without this trio of leads that the flick features, it probably would have folded underneath it’s own weight but thankfully, this trio of leads are here and are here to give some magnificent performances that stick with you, long after the flick is over. Before ’90, John Cusack was mainly known for racing randomly in the streets and always knowing the right Peter Gabriel track to have the ladies swooning, but once the year 1990 actually hit and this flick came-around, people began to look at him differently and realize something about him: this guy’s all grown-up. Cusack never really got a chance to stretch his acting-skills back in those days, mainly because everybody thought he was made for just hooking-up with high-school girls and in a way, they may have been right, but Cusack proved them all wrong and showed that the guy could play a sly, evil son-of-a-bitch that was as slick as they come and didn’t know when to stop pulling-in jobs and ranking-up the dough. Cusack always seems like a believable character and that’s all because the guy never over-does his whole cool essence and look to his act and always seems like he’s one step ahead of everybody else in the flick, as well as the audience themselves, yet, we always like him and cheer for him as things begin to go South for his hormones and his job. I guess being a con is considered a job and if so, he definitely must have had to won “Employee of the Month”, at least once.
Anjelica Huston plays his mommy, who just so happens to be 14-years-older than him and shows you that the gal can, as usual, play a strong-willed and big-brained, female-lead like no other and as much as this may seem like a convention of hers by now, I still can’t hold that against her. Huston’s great with this role and you always wonder whether or not she is Roy’s mom, his lover, a past-fling, or simply, just some chick who’s trying to play a con on him and get his stash of cash. Like the rest of the characters in this trio, you never know what’s up with her and what her next move is going to be, but like typical, Huston-fashion, she always keeps you guessing and interested. Still, I was just waiting for that wig to come off. I could not believe how legitimate it truly was in terms of the story and setting.
The best out of this trio, and the one who really stands-out among the rest is probably Annette Bening as Myra, the fellow-squeeze of Roy. Bening, no offense to her or her looks, has never really been the type of actress that I could really declare “sexy”, “hot”, or even one that I would just have to take to bed, if I saw her in real-life (because they all would go to be with me, let’s face it), but here, she totally had me re-think that. Bening uses her flair for sexuality and nudity to her advantage and has her character come-off as a bit of a tramp, but a smart tramp at best, and a tramp that knows exactly what she’s doing, even if the others may not be able to catch onto it right just yet. Out of of the three, you’ll be wondering the most what side Bening’s is on and when you finally get your answer, you may be shocked, you may not be, but what you will be, is surprised by how much Bening uses the look and feel of sex-appeal to make a character that’s full of it, really, really work.
Consensus: Stephen Frears’ direction definitely makes you feel as if he is just playing with you, just in-order to be more like his subjects, but that’s why The Grifters does, and does not work in it’s own right. However, you can’t deny the charm and power that is within these three performances and it’s just wonderful to see them act each-and-every-single-one of their asses off, even if the pace seems to not be serving them the full-plate that they so rightfully deserves.
Quirkiness is everywhere, especially in India.
In the wake of their father’s death, three brothers (Adrien Brody, Owen Wilson and Jason Schwartzman) embark on a steam-engine journey across India aboard the Darjeeling Limited and attempt to reconnect after years of physical and emotional distance. The trip also opens up old wounds and proves that the base instincts of sibling rivalry can never be completely erased.
Writer/director Wes Anderson is just one of those dudes that you either love or hate, although it’s weird with me. I don’t love him but I can definitely say that he has made some great flicks as well as some ones that maybe aren’t so splendid. This one is definitely placed in the latter.
The original premise is what you would expect from Anderson, and much like the plot, so is the rest of the film. All of Anderson’s quirks and signatures are here such as the running in slow-motion to a 60′s rock song, a Rolling Stones song coming on, very vibrant colors, family issues, and plenty of other strange things happening that we have to come to know and sometimes love with his flicks. This isn’t a huge disappointment to see since these signatures are what separates his rather generic story-lines from many other familiar ones out there. What the problem with this flick is that it’s uneven and really meanders during the middle act. I don’t know what was the problem here but the script didn’t hit any marks whatsoever whether it came to comedy, drama, or even quirky. It all just felt boring and nothing was holding my interest for the longest time.
When I say it’s uneven, I don’t mean that there are parts where it goes for the comedic chops and then just goes right onto totally dramatic territory, because they are actually pretty subtle with the dramatic stuff here, it just didn’t fit all that much. These characters are pretty dickish (what is to expected from Anderson) but the film tries so hard to have us care for these characters by the end that it’s too pushy. There will be a moment here or there, where it’s obvious that Anderson wants us to feel the pain and anguish that these characters feel, but instead we are left feeling nothing and even unmoved. It’s hard to connect to anyone and it wouldn’t have bothered me if they weren’t so busy bickering at each other for the first hour or so acting like one of them just stole their PS2 game.
However, there are plenty of moments to this flick that worked, which I think is Anderson’s fault. Anderson always has a knack for making beautiful-looking films go along with his darkly depressing subject material, and here is no different. His colors just pop-out at you with every shot, the camera itself glides back and forth and crash zooms like crazy as if it was a film from the 70′s, and the soundtrack itself provides plenty of tracks that go along with the setting as well as mood but also stay in your head long after the flick is over. Once again with Anderson, his films are barely hard to stop looking at because no matter what the subject matter is, the flick is always going to have something beautiful to see and gaze at.
As much as I may talk a bunch of ish on the script itself, I still can say that there are plenty of delightful moments to it as well that sort of make it the trip worth watching. The several moments of dry humor work because there are plenty of gags that come around subtlety in the film and it’s almost like the flick itself is testing you to see if you really are paying attention after all. Even the drama by the end starts to hit its mark mainly because Anderson is very good at showing sequences that not only move us but make us chuckle as well. There’s one impressive scene at the end played to the tune of “Play With Fire” by The Rolling Stones and without giving too much away, I just want to say it’s one of those signature Anderson scenes that make you forget about the rest of the film and have you only remember that.
The cast isn’t anything new here for Anderson, but they all do pretty well with his quirky material even though nobody is really gunning for anything new or improved when it comes to their acting. Adrien Brody is pretty good as Peter and is always able to convey any emotion that he has through his eyes, which helps his character out a lot here; Jason Schwartzman is pretty funny with his dry sense of humor that always seems to work but he’s much more mature with this role than we usually have seen him in here as Jack; and Owen Wilson is pretty much playing the same role he always does but with a more pretentious act here as Francis, but he still has great comedic timing and probably got the most laughs out of me the whole time. There’s also an extended cameo scene from Anjelica Huston as these dudes’ mommy, and she always gives that amazing performance that usually always clocks in underneath 10 minutes. As I’ve said before, everybody here is great but their not really trying anything new here to make us totally surprised.
Consensus: The Darjeeling Limited is well-acted and has its moments of pure drama and comedy, but everything feels too familiar with barely anything new or original to see here and the script is definitely one of Wes Anderson’s more uneven ones as of late.
It’s what we 21st century people call: hipster cancer.
An otherwise healthy twentysomething, Adam (Joseph Gordon-Levitt), has a comically early midlife crisis when he gets slapped with a cancer diagnosis — and a 50-50 chance of survival. But what’s the meaning of life when you’re not sure how long yours will last?
It’s been a proven fact that cancer is a hard subject to laugh about. I mean Funny People tried 2 years ago but they didn’t really do much with the cancer angle. However, this is the real cancer-comedy.
The script by Will Reiser does a perfect job of balancing out both the comedy, the drama, and the cancer with this challenging premise. Reiser has plenty of funny one-liners and also a lot of moments that will make you laugh at just how ridiculous everybody is responding to Adam’s cancer. When his work-place finds out that he has cancer, they throw him a huge party as if he was going to die the next day, and that’s just one of the many hilarious scenes this film has.
Another great thing about this script is that the drama works so incredibly well here as well, adding so much more heart to the comedy than I actually expected. Whenever things started to get serious with this film, I didn’t feel like it was forced and instead I felt like it served all of these characters and premise very well. I mean cancer is not always a funny thing and just how Reiser was able to show hilarity and sadness behind it all was a great job on his part.
The film starts to even get darker by the end which is something that really had me falling for this film because it never got so dark to completely turn me off from the film as a whole. This isn’t just about how Adam has to deal with the cancer, it’s about everyone around him who have to cope with it as well. Some people know that their losing a good buddy, while some know their losing a son, and others know they just may be losing a potential lover. Either way, this film shows just how everybody around the person with cancer, is as affected as the person him or herself.
Joseph Gordon-Levitt plays Adam in what I think is his best role yet. At first, it seemed like Adam was just going to be Tom from 500 Days of Summer, which isn’t a bad thing but then again, there’s no real range in that role for Joseph. However, when the film starts to go on, Adam starts to go through chemo and that’s when Joseph really starts to let all of his anger and frustration out. We see so many different sides to this character as he goes through this whole frustrating situation and even as dark as this character may get, we still keep on rooting for him the whole time because he is just a genuinely good and nice guy that really doesn’t deserve this, but nobody else does either really.
Seth Rogen is also great in this film as his best bud, Kyle, and and is the comic relief here that plays so well opposite of Gordon-Levitt. Rogen delivers all of the R-rated laughs we’re all so used to hearing from him nowadays such as the talk about blow jobs, weed, and picking up chicks, but there’s also an under-lining sweetness to this guy that comes out by the end of the film and is something that I think Rogen plays up very well. They work well together and I think that’s because they both seem like they really do care for each other and it’s just great to see Rogen be able to play up his comedy side as well as his softer side that we don’t see too much of really.
Anna Kendrick was also such a joy to watch as Katie, Adam’s therapist, as she plays up a lot of that cuteness and silliness to great effect as her and Gordon-Levitt create such a great chemistry together that it was almost better than his scenes with Rogen. Anjelica Huston was perfectly cast as Adam’s mother, and as always, gives a perfect performance that may be about 15 minutes of total screen-time, still had me tearing up in my seat. My one problem with this cast was Bryce Dallas Howard as Adam’s girlfriend who is a big bitch but at the same time is a character that seemed very badly written and had no reason to really be there other than to create more conflict for his character. Although, she was very good in the role I must say.
Consensus: Cancer and comedy may be a hard subject to make watchable, but 50/50 does that perfectly. With great acting from the whole cast, hilarious moments, and as well as some tender ones as well, this film creates a story that almost seems like real-life with characters that are all perfectly fleshed out.