Saturday, July 24, 2010
The best spy thrillers I’ve seen since THE BOURNE IDENTITY are ARMY OF SHADOWS (about the French Resistance), BODY OF LIES (Iraq), BLACK BOOK (Dutch Resistance), and FLAME AND CITRON (Danish Resistance), but they were entirely different animals. They were about plausible people doing heroic things in tough situations, while SALT is about superhuman people doing heroic things in tough situations.
Angelina Jolie plays Evelyn Salt, a superhuman CIA agent whom the world has passed by. She’s a Cold Warrior, a fluent Russian speaker and #2 in the covert side of CIA’s Russia Section (You know she’s important because she shares a cubicle with #1. That’s government work for ya.), but the Cold War’s been over for a long time. What’s left? Ferreting secrets out of the North Koreans (Here’s the supersecret debrief on DPRK: its government is not acting in the best interests of its people. And it has nukes.)? But then a Russian defector walks into her supposedly secret office building, accuses her of being a Russian mole, and the game is on.
Strap in for an hour and fifteen minutes of stunts, chases, gunfights, and stuff blowing up real good. It’s well-done work, mostly practical and perfectly choreographed, anchored with a tough yet ambivalent Jolie performance that keeps us guessing as to her real allegiance. Add fine supporting performances by the reliably excellent Chiwetel Ejiofor and Liev Schreiber and a script with plenty of twists and turns, and you’re in for a good time at the movies.
I didn’t even want to see this picture – it started half an hour before INCEPTION and my wife and I were pressed for time – but SALT showed me a great time at the movies. Color me very pleasantly surprised.
Wednesday, July 21, 2010
BEER WARS begins with a confessional: the writer, director, and star tells us (I paraphrase), “I ran Mike’s Hard Lemonade (Slogan: Helping high school girls get pregnant since 1999!) until I got tired of corporate bullshit. Then I quit and tried my hand at venture capital, living in an ashram, and basically screwing around on my cushion of money. I got bored after a while and decided to make this documentary about how evil big companies don’t roll over and let little companies eat their lunch. Share my post-hippie, comfortably wealthy outrage.”
Well, la de da.
The rest of us work for a living, lady. So excuse me if I don’t share your anger at Wal Mart (selling good stuff at low prices to people who couldn’t otherwise afford it), Microsoft (revolutionizing humanity’s relationship with information), and Anheuser Busch (Slogan: helping high school boys work up the courage to hit on high school girls since 1852!).
Watching this film, I felt like I’d just been cornered at a cocktail party by the most loathsome person within three city blocks. Not only was her manifest self-fascination repulsive, her scattershot approach to her subject matter prevented her from building a coherent, compelling case.
Her thesis goes as follows: Gigantic beer companies, in cahoots with legally sanctioned distributers, conspire to keep smaller companies from reducing their market share. Ok, this could be interesting. Make the case that monopolistic behavior is stunting entrepreneurship and call me to arms. Dilettante filmmaker Anat Baron kills the interest, however, by wasting my time with the story of an entrepreneur flogging a poorly conceived and ultimately unappealing brand of beer (The hook: it has caffeine! What about tasting good?). She’d have done much better by focusing all her attention on Sam Calagione, who doesn’t get nearly enough screen time. Calagione runs Dogfish Head Brewing Company, and he has two things going for him: he’s charismatic and he makes great beer. I’d have learned more, and been more entertained, by following this guy around for a year. Wanna show me how megabreweries, with armies of lawyers and harems of politicians, keep the little guy down? Don’t squawk it at me: just let me watch it unfold as Calagione fights his legal, commercial, and political battles against steep odds. Stay focused: that’s how you’ll entertain and inform me.
Or just sail around the world or something – whatever self-satisfied rich people do. I don’t want to hear about it.
Tuesday, July 20, 2010
Here’s the idea: a quirky inventor on a small island off America’s East Coast creates a device that turns raindrops into food. Chaos ensues, love happens, we get a few jokes, and everyone learns a Valuable Life Lesson.
That’s it, and it’s fine, but it ain’t UP. There’s nothing in this kids’ film that adults don’t already know, so mom and dad are forced to rely on spectacle to get them through. CLOUDY has plenty of spectacle and it wowed my kids, so I shouldn’t complain.
It isn’t fair, and it isn’t CLOUDY’s fault. But I want another UP.