Day: November 3, 2011

Assassination Tango

2002

United Artists/American Zoetrope

Written and Directed by Robert Duvall

Produced by Robert Duvall and Rob Carliner

It’s kinda difficult to categorize exactly what ASSASSINATION TANGO is all about.  It’s got Old Time Tough gangsters, hit men and political intrigue.  It’s also got beautiful women and handsome men in Buenos Aires dancing the tango.  A lot.  Which I suppose leads to the question is ASSASSINATION TANGO a crime thriller or a dance movie?  It’s both and it’s neither.  It manages to serve up generous helpings of both while also being a character study as well.  How well Robert Duvall as writer, director and star of this movie pulls it off is entirely up to each individual.

John J. Anderson (Robert Duvall) is a career mob hit man past his prime.  But he’s still a dangerous son of a bitch when he has to be.  But he no longer wants to be.  All he’s interested in is settling down with his girlfriend Maggie (Kathy Baker) and her 10 year old daughter Jenny (Katherine Micheaux Miller) and take care of them.  But Anderson is persuaded by his boss, Coney Island mobster Frankie (Frank Gio) to accept a hit in Argentina.  The money’s too good to turn down and after Anderson gets Frankie’s word of honor that this will be his last job, Anderson flies down to Buenos Aires.

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He hooks up with his local contacts (one of them played by Ruben Blades) and learns that he’s to kill a general who has apparently outlived his usefulness.  This is the part of the movie that really made me sit up and pay attention because what we’re talking about here isn’t just whacking Benny Two-Toes in back of The Bada-Bing because he forgot to leave the cannolis.  This is clearly a political assassination and I was interested in seeing the ramifications of American gangsters being hired to carry out hits on foreign soil.  But we never get that angle of the plot.  The general breaks his leg in a riding accident and so the hit is off for three weeks.  Don’t ask me why Anderson couldn’t just have gone to the hospital and whacked him there but he doesn’t.  Instead, he spends his time wandering around the city until finding a tango club and after watching the performers he’s immediately he’s smitten with the dance.  It’s been shown early on in the movie that Anderson loves to dance and he’s seen the tango done before but never like this.  And he’s never seen anything like the gorgeous woman he goes to see dance the tango every night for a week, Manuela (Luciana Pedraza, Duvall’s real life wife).  Anderson asks Manuela to teach him the ‘real’ tango and the assassination plot gets put on hold as Manuela takes Anderson on a tour of tango clubs where he learns what the tango is all about.  But don’t worry, we get back to the assassination part of the story but it doesn’t really take the course we would expect a movie like this to take.

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I suppose that’s the main reason I’m recommending ASSASSINATION TANGO: you never get comfortable enough to assume you know where this movie is going.  There are a lot of scenes that start out like the type of scenes we’re used to seeing in a crime thriller but the payoff of these scenes may have you cocking your head to the side in surprise.  The relationship between Anderson and Manuela is also handled in an unexpected manner.  You fully expect that the old guy is going to immediately fall in love with this ravishing young woman and theirs will be an impossible love that cannot be fulfilled.  Nah.  It don’t go down like that.  In fact, they have a conversation in a coffee house that is one of the most adult and natural sounding conversations I’ve ever seen and heard on film.  The way Duvall and Luciana Pedraza play the scene is wonderful to watch.

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Now there’s going to be a bunch of Robert Duvall fans that will see this movie and wish there was a lot less tangoing and a lot more assassinating but it just isn’t that type of movie.  It’s more of a character study about this hit man who is in the twilight of his years but still finds things that keep him young, like his relationship with a 10-year old girl who he considers the daughter he never had, the relationship with this marvelous tango dancer and his learning how to dance the tango the way it was meant to be danced.

This brings me to the dancing itself.  Robert Duvall is an enthusiastic tango dancer in real life and many of the dancers in this movie are celebrities in their native Argentina and the way they move is breathtaking.  I love dancing and love watching dancing, especially when it’s done this well and with such grace, precision and emotion.  It’s easy to see why Anderson falls in love with the tango when it’s danced this way.

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The resolution of the assassination plot comes almost as an afterthought.  The hit is botched and Anderson finds himself on the run from the police and the people who wanted the general dead in the first place.  The way it all ends may leave you saying: “waitamminit…that’s it?” But then again, considering that this movie isn’t really about the hit at all may mollify those of you who want to see a bloodbath of violence at the end of your movies.  ASSASSINATION TANGO ends on a quiet, even contemplative note.  And when you think about this movie afterwards I have a feeling that like me, you won’t be thinking about the violent scenes.  You’ll be thinking about the ones where Anderson takes Jenny for a horse ride or Anderson sitting in a tango club discussing the philosophy of the tango with a group of dancers.  Or that great coffee house conversation between Anderson and Manuela.  I’d say check it out if you’re a Robert Duvall fan like me.  ASSASSINATION TANGO would make a great double feature with “The Apostle” another movie written and directed by Mr. Duvall.  Both of them highlight a totally different side of this astoundingly talented actor.

Rated R for language and violence

114 minutes

 

Bamboozled

2000

New Line Cinema

Written and Directed by Spike Lee

Produced by Kisha Imani Cameron, Jon Kilik and Spike Lee

The last credit we see at the end of BAMBOOZLED is a dedication to Budd Schulberg.  It’s a dedication that I found most appropriate because Budd Schulberg wrote the screenplay for “A Face In the Crowd”.  A movie I’ve seen maybe nine or ten times and I still see new things in it every time I see it.  There’s a lot of “A Face In The Crowd” as well as “Network” in BAMBOOZLED.  In fact, I recommend you take a Friday or Saturday night and watch all three movies  together as thematically they’re the most scathing of indictments on the dangers of television ever committed to film.  They’re all satires, they’re all comedies, they’re all dramas and they’re all true tragedies as well.  Especially BAMBOOZLED in that the situation created by corporate and personal greed as well as the maniacal hunt for ‘The Next Big Thing’ and higher ratings lead to a truly frightening bloodbath that always leaves me stunned when I get to the end of this powerful movie.

Pierre Delacroix (Damon Wayans) is in a whole lot of trouble.  His job at the Continental Broadcasting System is in serious jeopardy.  The network is in last place and Pierre’s boss, Thomas Dunwitty (Michael Rapaport) insists that Pierre come up with a television show that will appeal primarily to African-Americans.  Dunwitty is an idiot who thinks that because he’s married to a black woman that gives him the right to use the word ‘nigger’ freely.  He has pictures of black athletes on the walls of his office and claims he understands black people more than the uptight, Harvard educated Pierre.  Pierre conspires with his assistant Sloan Hopkins (Jada Pinkett Smith) to create a show that is so overwhelmingly racist and offensive that Dunwitty will have no choice but to fire Pierre who can then go to another network.  He hires two talented street performers, tap dancer Manray (Savior Glover) and the comic Womack (Tommy Davidson) to star in a show called “The New Millennium Minstrel Show” The show is to be set in a watermelon patch on a Southern plantation and all the performers will appear in blackface.  Womack is horrified, but Manray, eager to make the big time at last agrees to star in the show.  Womack reluctantly goes along, not willing to leave his partner.  And he hopes that maybe he can make some changes by being on the inside.

Now here’s where things get interesting: Dunwitty actually loves the show and puts in on the air where it becomes a mega hit and a cultural phenomenon.  So much to the point that the multi-racial studio audiences begin showing up wearing blackface themselves and proudly proclaiming themselves to be ‘niggers’.  Sloan and Womack are disgusted and horrified by the show’s popularity but Pierre and Manray embrace their success wholeheartedly, even though prominent African-Americans such as Al Sharpton and Johnnie Cochran denounce the show.  The situation is complicated by Sloan’s brother Big Blak Afrika (Mos Def) and his politically oriented rap group, The Mau Maus who hatch a plan to kidnap Manray and execute him publicly on a live Internet web cast in protest.

BAMBOOZLED isn’t going to appeal to a lot of people.  I’ll be honest here: Spike Lee isn’t exactly the most subtle of filmmakers when it comes to making his point.  The images of blackfaced actors shuckin’ & jivin’ in a watermelon patch to the music of a group called The Alabama Porch Monkeys (played by The Roots) is one that a lot of people won’t want to see.  And I can understand that.  BAMBOOZLED is a hard movie for me to watch and I have a tremendous amount of liking and respect for the film.  So I can imagine the impact it’ll have on people who don’t like Spike Lee or this kind of material.  But I remember watching some of the so-called ‘comedies’ featuring black actors on UPN or TBS and I realize that “The New Millennium Minstrel Show” really isn’t that far from what they air.  We get the message but Spike Lee really goes out of his way to make sure that we get it.

The visual style of the movie goes a long way to selling the story to me.  Spike Lee shot the movie using digital camcorders that you or I could go into any Best Buy or Wal-Mart and buy.  This method gives the movie a documentary-like feel that I liked.  What else did I like?  Jada Pinkett Smith has never really impressed me all that much as an actress outside of her roles in “Low Down Dirty Shame” and “Tales From The Crypt: Demon Knight” but here she plays a wonderfully detailed character who is truly horrified by the situation she finds herself in.  I remember Tommy Davidson from the old “In Living Color” TV show where he always struck me as one of the most consistently talented performers.  He doesn’t seem to get a lot of work and I don’t understand why.  Here he shows a definite talent for drama.  As does Savior Glover.  Sure, we know he can dance good enough to make angels weep but he also can act.  I ended up not liking his character and think that he deserves his eventual fate but I sympathized with him and understand why he made the choices he did.  Damon Wayans makes some odd choices in his playing Pierre Delacroix, including using a really odd, nasal way of speaking and an unusual way of using his hands while talking.  But I appreciated seeing him do something different.  I’ve always liked Damon Wayans and his easy going manner of acting in comedies.  I’d like to see him in more dramas.  And any movie that has Paul Mooney in it automatically gets my attention.  Paul Mooney is probably the funniest man who has ever lived.  This cat wrote for both Richard Pryor and Dave Chappelle and if I have to tell you any more than that then you just don’t get it.  And I really liked Mos Def in this one as well.  If you’ve ever seen “Something The Lord Made” then you know that Mos Def really can act.  That was made in 2004 but even in this 2000 movie you can tell he’s got the chops.  He and Jada Pinkett Smith have a wonderful scene where they discuss how black people are portrayed in movies and television that is so compelling you feel like you’re eavesdropping on an actual conversation.  Michael Rappaport does an excellent job of playing a character that is totally unlikable but yet, you can’t wait for him to show up on screen to see what he’ll do next.

So should you see BAMBOOZLED?  Well, I certainly think you should if you’re in the mood for heavy social satire. In fact, Netflix BAMBOOZLED, “A Face In The Crowd” and “Network” and watch ‘em all back to back.  BAMBOOZLED is not light entertainment at all.  In a lot of ways it’s a highly offensive movie where negative images of African-Americans fill the screen and shove themselves into your face.  And if you’re sensitive about the use of the n-word then you should stay away because it’s used often here.  But I recommend BAMBOOZLED if for no other reason than Spike Lee dared to explore how African-Americans are used and exploited by television and popular media and did it in such a thought-provoking manner.  You may love it or hate it but BAMBOOZLED, like “A Face In The Crowd” and “Network” should make you think and question about what you watch on television and why you watch it.

Especially now.

Rated: R

135 Minutes

Be advised that there is no nudity in the movie and no violence until the last fifteen or twenty minutes but the language throughout is mighty raw.  And the n-word is used enough to make even Quentin Tarantino blush.  So if you’ve got sensitive ears, don’t say I didn’t warn you.


 

 

After The Sunset

2004

New Line Cinema

Produced by Beau Flynn, Jay Stern and Tripp Vinson

Directed by Brett Ratner

Screenplay by Paul Zybyszewski and Craig Rosenberg

Story by Paul Zybyszewski

I strongly suspect that the main reason why AFTER THE SUNSET was filmed was so that the cast and crew could have one hell of a working vacation in The Bahamas.  The movie was filmed on Nassau and New Providence Island and showcases the gorgeous Atlantis Hotel and Resort.  The movie makes The Bahamas look so beautiful and so much fun that halfway through the movie I wanted to shut it off, wake up The Wife and go book a flight down there right away.   Which is part of the problem with AFTER THE SUNSET.  You’re so busy looking at the gorgeous scenery and the cast enjoying it so much you’re really not paying much attention to the story.  And with a killer cast like Pierce Brosnan, Salma Hayek, Woody Harrelson, Naomie Harris and Don Cheadle you would think you’d be on the edge of your seat savoring the remarkable acting talent on the screen.

You won’t and I’m willing to bet you won’t even care.  AFTER THE SUNSET is such a lightweight movie and it’s obvious that the cast aren’t even going deep into the bag of acting tricks that they’ve all proved in the past they’re more than capable of.  There are no heavy performances in this one and no big scenes.  AFTER THE SUNSET is as amazingly laid-back movie with no more substance than cotton candy and it’s a movie you’ll be hard pressed to remember three days after you’ve seen it.  But while you’re watching it you’re enjoying what you’re seeing.

Max Burdett (Pierce Brosnan) is a Master Thief of the old school.  He’s never been caught and his trademark is that he always has an absolutely unshakeable alibi.  Matter of fact, Max always has concrete evidence that he was somewhere else whenever a heist was pulled.  Max’s latest heist involved stealing the second of three large diamonds once owned by Napoleon.  Max has already stolen the first.  The second diamond is being guarded by ace FBI agent Stan Lloyd (Woody Harrelson) but Max is able to steal the diamond right out from under his nose with almost ridiculous ease that makes Stan the laughingstock of the FBI.

Max and his gorgeous lover/partner Lola (Salma Hayek) head off to The Bahamas for a well-earned retirement.  Stan has been suspended and his career is on the verge of the abyss.  On his own he tracks them down because Stan knows that the third Napoleon diamond is on a cruise ship heading for The Bahamas and he knows that Max knows.  And Max knows that Stan knows that he knows.  And Lola knows that Max knows that Stan knows that Max knows.  You see, Lola doesn’t want any part of the heist.  She honestly wants to retire and give up boosting ice.  But Max has a clever scheme to get both Stan and Lola to help him steal the diamond and the best part of it that the two of them won’t even know it.

It’s driving poor Stan crazy trying to keep one step ahead of the wily Max, even with the help of local police detective Sophie (Naomie Harris) who has her own problems trying to put local crime boss Henri Moore (Don Cheadle) behind bars. But seeing as how Henri and Max enter a partnership because Max is going to need Henri’s island contacts to steal the diamond, she agrees to team up with Stan to get the goods on both of them.

If this sounds to you like a harmless caper/crime/screwball comedy/romantic thriller you’re absolutely right.  AFTER THE SUNSET incorporates all of these elements as well as those of the buddy film since Max and Stan surprisingly develop a real friendship.  Max puts Stan up in the $25,000 a night Bridge Suite in The Atlantis Hotel.  Stan calls up Max and says he can’t be bribed that easy.  Max says it’s no bribe: he just wants Stan to see how Max lives.  There’s a really funny scene late in the movie where Max and Stan have messed up their respective relationships with Lola and Sophie.  Max goes to Sophie to try and talk her into taking Stan back while Stan pleads Max’s case to Lola.  The disbelieving look on the faces of the two women is priceless.  Max and Stan become so buddy-buddy that at one point Stan’s boss asks him seriously: “Are you and this guy dating or something?”

But that’s also a problem with AFTER THE SUNSET: it switches gears so fast that you’re never able to get comfortably into a mood.  The romantic scenes between Pierce Brosnan and Salma Hayek are either full of steamy sexual energy or seem as if the screenwriters are using lines and gags stolen from “I Love Lucy” reruns.   The heist scenes are either full of action and tension as any of Brosnan’s James Bond movies or so incredibly devoid of any common sense and logic you wonder if Max Burdett studied under Wile E. Coyote.  The scenes with Brosnan and Woody Harrelson are either deadly serious as when they’re pointing guns at each other in a John Woo type standoff or completely slapstick as when they’re on a boat fishing and catch a shark.  What happens next wouldn’t be out of place in a Martin & Lewis comedy.

Brett Ratner isn’t exactly one of my favorite directors as I absolute detest the “Rush Hour” movies and well made as it was, “Red Dragon” was a totally unnecessary film.  He’s all over the place here, never settling down for more than a minute as if he figures we would get bored if the movie was an out-and-out heist thriller and threw in as many elements as he could to keep things jumping.

I’ve got no complaints with the acting.  As I’ve said earlier, everybody in the cast looks like they had an absolute blast making this movie and it comes across on the screen.  And it’s worth watching just for the supernaturally beautiful Salma Hayek.  She looks so good in this movie it made my toes tingle.  I know women who have said that they’ve never thought about being a lesbian but Salma Hayek could make them change their mind in a New York minute.  It’s literally impossible to take your eyes off the screen when she’s on it.  And she has a really good rapport with Pierce Brosnan.  I’d really like to see them do something else together, maybe a modern version of “The Thin Man” Brosnan goes through 90% of the movie unshaven and rather scruffy looking but I don’t think the ladies are going to mind one bit. Don Cheadle has fun with his role as a crime boss but he has way too little screen time.  And his last scene is so abrupt and out-of-left field you may feel cheated by its resolution.

So should you see AFTER THE SUNSET?  It’s very difficult for me not to recommend this one.  The main thing in its favor is that it’s thankfully unpretentious.  It is what it is and that’s all it is.  It’s not trying to be a Big Important Film or win any Academy Awards.  It’s light, easy on the brain and the eye.  The guys have Salma Hayek and Naomie Harris to drool over while the ladies can groove on Pierce Brosnan, Don Cheadle and Woody Harrelson.  The locations and scenery are beautifully photographed and you feel like you’re catching a tan just looking at the movie.  It’s an okay Late Friday Night movie to chill with the wife or girlfriend.  AFTER THE SUNSET definitely isn’t going to make either of you feel like you wasted your time.

Rated PG-13

97 minutes