The Counselor by Ridley Scott

The Counselor by Ridley Scott

To give the simplest summary of the latest film from Ridley Scott and first-time screenwriter Cormac McCarthy, the Counselor (Michael Fassbender), deeply in love with his fiancée Laura (Penelope Cruz), tries to make a quick score in a one-time drug deal with Reiner (Javier Bardem), his girlfriend Malkina (Cameron Diaz) and middleman Westray (Brad Pitt). The deal backfires, and now The Counselor is wrongfully targeted by a Mexican drug cartel.

So Cormac McCarthy, Ridley Scott, Michael Fassbender, Brad Pitt, Javier Bardem, Penelope Cruz and Cameron Diaz in a monumental cinematic failure, what happened?

Let’s be clear. The true author of The Counselor is Cormac McCarthy, not Ridley Scott. The artistic choices that McCarthy is attempting with the script are evident. He seems to have a disdain for exposition, as most of the scenes start and end before the typical story movements in a plot. What remains are these existential conversations that occur after a lot of the action has taken place.

McCarthy thinks that by removing story explanation, the film’s themes and ideas will float to the surface. The dialogue just drones on and on and on non-stop, having the viewer scratching their heads trying to keep up with it. As a result, there is no time to absorb the themes and ideas that McCarthy is trying to communicate. Audiences can tune to a different syntax (i.e. Yoda or Nadsat from A Clockwork Orange) and absorb heavy themes, but it is hard to do both at the same time.

Michael Fassbender carries the film sufficiently on his shoulder by adding as much believability as possible and together with Penelope Cruz make a good solid emotional anchor with their love story. Javier Bardem does his trademark brand of ‘psychotic hair acting’, fashioning a spiky hairstyle that looks like he is forcibly pulling out his hair with hair gel. Brad Pitt’s character just seems like an odd combination of character quirks that comes off more shallow. It is hard to buy Bardem and Pitt’s characters because gangsters would never philosophize and advise their underlings like old wise sages.

Cameron Diaz is the odd one out and it is hard to judge her performance. It took me a while to realize that Malkina character was from Barbados, and apparently she put on an accent for it, but it was undetectable. The role is something we never seen from Diaz before and it is a wild explosive left-field character. I just don’t know what to make of it. Every actor is delivering on what is written, but it’s hard to judge if it’s good or bad acting because the performances do not add up to the sum of its parts. The actors are not to be blamed.

The final conclusion I can draw is that director Ridley Scott and the cast believed that Cormac McCarthy has written something great and have proceeded to honor it by acting it out unedited as if it was Shakespeare. Had they been more critical about the screenplay and its mechanics, something more profound definitely could have been made. From what McCarthy is trying to say with these themes, he would have done better by just writing a philosophy paper about greed and corruption. As a bleak morality tale, it is not at all compelling.

The Counselor is not a film I would recommend people to see for leisure, but anybody with an interest in screenwriting should give it a watch to study the forensics and learn what not to do, even if you are a critically acclaimed novelist.

 

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Woody Allen: A Documentary by Robert B. Weide

Woody Allen: A Documentary by Robert B. Weide

If you ever owned a DVD of a Woody Allen movie, you will know that there are never any special features. There is probably no budget for a behind-the-scenes documentary crew following him around on his film shoots, heck, Woody Allen has said he does not even like the concept of special features. He even burns the deleted scenes after the film is completed.

Up till now, the only way to truly learn about Woody Allen’s process was through books. I own Conversations with Woody Allen by Eric Lax (who’s in the film as his biographer) and Woody Allen on Woody Allen: In Conversation with Stig Bjorkman, which both are all fine reads and great insights into Allen’s creative process. I knew most of his stories: his workman-like approach, his approach to casting, , .

The structure of the documentary is tailor-made to its subject and it really fits. It chronicles Allen’s life from his career transitions beginning from a young joke writer to stand-up comedian to a filmmaker. Much of Allen’s frequent collaborators and family are interviewed, including his sister, actors, co-writers, casting director and producers. Each film that he’s made is covered more or less but much more emphasis is placed on his creative phases: his early funny films, the transition with Annie Hall and the Diane Keaton era, the Mia Farrow era, Match Point and now the current European city phase. The behind-the-scenes section on the set of You Will Meet A Tall Dark Stranger where you see Allen rehearsing a scene with Naomi Watts and Josh Brolin in an argument scene was a real treat. Also, my top five favorite Woody films are all covered (Crimes and Misdemeanors, Stardust Memories, Everybody Says I Love You, Deconstructing Harry and Midnight in Paris), so I am a happy camper.

I had a dumb dream once where I met Wong Kar Wai and he took off his infamous sunglasses, looked me straight into the eye and spoke to me. I woke up realizing I saw Wong Kar Wai’s eyes in person and felt like I knew something deeper about him because I was in his presence.

That’s how this documentary made me feel. Despite that my previous knowledge, I didn’t know anything about Woody Allen in terms of a human being. The documentary offers that close proximity as we basically hang out with Woody Allen for 3 hours. We take a trip with Allen around New York visiting various locations like his cutting room, his old elementary school (which he hates), the jazz club (where he plays the clarinet every Monday) and the local cinema he used to frequent (inspired the idea for Purple Rose of Cairo) and we see the space of his own world and can visualize where the genesis of his ideas come from. One major highlight is when we’re in Allen’s actual home where he shows you his typewriter and takes out his notes for story ideas and reads out a few of them.

It’s an absorbing experience as we gain great insight into Allen as a human being and an artist. It totally makes up for the lack of special features for every Woody Allen DVD. A highly recommended experience for fellow Woody Allen fans.

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