I LIKE Oliver Stone. I like the fact that he’s prepared to work at any level to get a film made. I like that he wears his heart and his politics on his sleeve.
Savages, Universal, £19.99 | Ruby Sparks, 20th Century Fox, £19.99
I like that he’s unapologetic about his blunt storytelling style and his hyperbolic approach to every kind of subject matter. I even like Any Given Sunday (hard to beat the corniness of Al Pacino’s “inches” speech when it’s swiftly followed by a guy getting his eyeball ripped out). As much as I like him as a director, though, there’s no getting around the fact that his latest film Savages is a bit of a dog. Set against the backdrop of Mexico’s drug wars and California’s pseudo-legal marijuana trade, what should be fertile material instead becomes cinematic fertilizer. The problem is not that Stone doesn’t crank up the pyrotechnics (he does) or that he gets wildly over-the-top performances from his supporting cast (especially a moustachioed Benicio Del Toro and a cleavage-heavy Salma Hayek). It’s that he homes in on the three least compelling characters – Aaron Johnson’s ethically minded marijuana grower, his soul-deadened Iraq war veteran business partner (Taylor Kitsch) and the girl (Blake Lively) they willingly share – to anchor the story. Say what you like about Stone’s past films, but their main characters have always been worthy of having their stories told. Not this time.
Far better is Ruby Sparks. Putting a fresh and darkly compelling spin on the Pygmalion myth, Little Miss Sunshine directors Valerie Faris and Jonathan Dayton use the notion of an artist struggling to get to grips with one of their creations as the basis for a fantastical romantic comedy about the debilitating ways in which people try to mould their significant others into their ideal partners. Much of the credit for the film’s success should be attributed to its star and writer Zoe Kazan. Her incisive script takes a fanciful conceit – a blocked novelist (Paul Dano) who literally writes into existence his dream woman (Kazan) – and refuses to shy away from the messy implications that arise when the eponymous heroine begins to outgrow her creator’s own limited imagination when it comes to women. The result is a smart, literate, yet still heartfelt take on love and what it really means to be with someone.
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