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Stone's 'Savages' makes more impact than sense

Posted: July 12, 2012 - 12:00am

Oliver Stone does drugs.

For some reason, that seems important to point out from the get-go here. He’d be perfectly OK with me writing that, by the way. When it comes specifically to marijuana, he’s downright proud of his habit. In interviews leading up to the release of his new film, “Savages,” Stone has been quite honest about his fondness for being, um, stoned. There are moments in seemingly every Stone movie I can remember (“Natural Born Killers” and “U Turn” to name two) where it seems quite obvious the man does drugs. Maybe (probably) even during the actual production of the movie.

Coherently describing the plot of any Stone movie, “Savages” included, is something that probably would be easier if you were on, you know, drugs. Ironically, the author of the novel by the same name, Don Winslow, told CNN recently that he doesn’t do drugs. Whatever, “Savages” is about the marijuana trade, and the drug is ubiquitous on screen. “Savages” is also about corruption (John Travolta is wonderfully snarky as the crooked cop). It’s about violence. Lots and lots of violence.

(Note to parents: Don’t be “that parent.” I give points to the dad I saw leave about 20 minutes in with his two youngsters. I’ll assume he didn’t know what he had signed up for. If I could have talked to him before the movie, I would have told him he was signing up for gruesome beheadings via chainsaws and graphic sex. In the first 120 seconds of the movie. Fair warning.)

Where were we? Ah, yes. “Savages” is definitely about violence. It’s about lust. It’s also, oddly, about love. About family. One thing you’ll never be able to accuse Oliver Stone of is boring, straight forward storylines.

The heroes of “Savages” are two college buddies that have peacefully risen to the top of the weed game in California. Chon (Taylor Kitsch) and Ben (Aaron Johnson) are good at growing weed. They’re also a good team with former Navy SEAL Chon providing the muscle to Ben’s Buddhist, thinker style. Calling them buddies, though, is probably selling them short. They share their business, and they share their girlfriend, O (Blake Lively).

Weird? Yes. Borderline creepy? I think so. But hey, as O points out more than once in her frequent voiceovers, they all love each other. There’s even a scene featuring the three of them, um, loving each other to prove it. It is their odd triangle of love that drives the majority of the film forward, though, so get used to it.

When ruthless Mexican cartel queen Elena (a brilliantly brutal yet delicate performance by Salma Hayek) has her underlings inform Chon and Ben that they’d like to merge businesses, their response sets the rest of the story in motion. They say no thanks. Except you don’t really get to say “no thanks” to a cartel. Elena responds by kidnapping O, and Chon and Ben respond to that by essentially declaring war on the cartel.

It’s never boring. It’s usually bloody. It’s often disquieting enough that you’ll feel like you’re in the wrong for even watching it. And I haven’t even mentioned Benicio Del Toro’s super slimy, morally deprived Lado – the man who does Elena’s dirty work on the U.S. side of the border. Lado might make you laugh a few times (I did), but you’ll only feel dirty afterward for ever thinking he was funny (I did that as well).

Organized, if barely, chaos. “Savages” is vintage Oliver Stone. That’s a good thing. I think. I’m still trying to wrap my head around parts of it. What’s nice, though, is that if you find yourself sitting in the theater during the final credits thinking, “I don’t get it,” it’s cool.

Because Oliver Stone does drugs.

•••

The boob tube continues to starve during these summer months, but there’s one gem worth tasting: “MasterChef” (FOX). This isn’t the first season of the show designed to find America’s top home cook, but it’s the best serving so far.

Gordon Ramsay (yes, he’s on this show too), Graham Elliot and Joe Bastianich are the show’s hosts and judges. Like any other prize-based reality show, “MasterChef” starts out with auditions. Like any other reality, prize-based show, a contestant is eliminated each week. There’s temporary fame and money at the end of the tunnel for the winner, blah blah blah.

None of the show’s fairly standard formula is why you should be watching. The reason why you should be watching goes by the name of Christine Ha.

Christine Ha is, to sum it up with a single word, freaking-amazing-inspiring-incredible. I feel like I’m almost spoiling it for you by telling you she’s still around after several eliminations. Still, if you watch from the beginning of this season (which you should), she’s remarkable enough that you’ll still be blown away playing catch-up.

Christine Ha, you see, is blind. She hasn’t always been, but she is now. Yet, she cooks like she can see… everything. She cooks beautifully. She competes in these complex challenges as if she’s on a level playing field. For crying out loud, she makes it seem like she’s got some sort of advantage!

Speaking of crying out loud, my wife and I have both cried during just about every episode so far watching her. I’m fighting back tears just thinking about her as I type. The show itself is entertaining and a weekly staple in our house. It can also be fun to mean-tweet some of the show’s jerkier contestants. Actually, that’s a lot of fun.

Christine Ha, though, is the reason you should give “MasterChef” a try during this summer season. Just keep the Kleenex nearby.

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