All My Movies: 21 & 21 Grams

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I just realized I should have watched 10 Things I Hate About You first in all of this back-to-back watching...but I will save that for 'Ten' Things I Hate About You, as that's where it's currently filed in my DVD collection.

Anyway, I spent the weekend watching films related to the #21.

Starring: Jim Sturgess, Kevin Spacey, Kate Bosworth
Co-Starring: Laurence Fishburne, Aaron Yoo, Liza Lapira
Times Watched: 3
Genre: Drama / Caper
Rotten Tomatoes / Metacritic: 35% / 48

The Road To Ownership: 21 had an enticing premise when it was released in theatres, so I actually made the effort to see it. I enjoy a good caper film, the young student twist separated this from other Vegas-bound films. I ended up scoring it at Blockbuster, previously viewed, for only $10.

The Plot: Ben (Jim Sturgess) has just turned 21 (curious, because the bar he visits on his 21st birthday seems to be a place he regularly frequents) and is on the verge of his dreams coming true. A perfect student at MIT, he has been accepted to Harvard Medical. The only thing standing in his way is money. Enter Kevin Spacey, a professor of his named Mickey that leads a team of geniuses to take down various casinos in Vegas with a cleverly crafted card counting strategy. But for every new perk in Ben’s new life – he gets the hottest girl in school, parties in Vegas every weekend, and has hundreds of thousands of dollars of cash – there is a threat, including a security manager that is trying to save his business with hands on policing of the casino floor.

The Good & The Bad:
After watching this movie for a third time, I started to notice its little flaws…such as the aforementioned 21st birthday gaffe, or the fact Ben carelessly leaves wads of cash lying around when he in fact should be doing *something* with them (Harvard doesn’t accept rolls of Benjamins). Ultimately this movie is best enjoyed the first time you watch it – the pacing of the film is kind of plodding once you’ve experienced it more than once, with interjectors of Ben’s old life distracting you from the escalating tension and excitement of his new one. Compared to other Vegas capers (namely the Ocean’s series), there isn’t enough fun Vegas moments to make it super rewatchable.

Also, I really, truly hate the ending of this film (or climax). It’s a bait and switch on several levels and it’s grating to not have things work out the way they logically should have (or perhaps just the way the audience would want / expect them to). In fact the entire Laurence Fishburne character and plot line drives me nuts.
There’s definitely a lot of fun to be had as the film puts you in the mindset of “maybe *I* can do this!” and shows you the supposed tricks of the trade that the actual MIT blackjack team used. Incidentally it should be noted the book this movie is based on is a work of semi-nonfiction, with many parts dramatized (much like James Frey’s infamous works), and that there was some controversy over the fact the blackjack team was mostly Asian, while the film’s cast was mostly white. Although I’m usually not a fan, the voiceover montages actually make up some of the best parts of the film. There are also a lot of fun buddy scenes with Ben’s character and his two nerdtastic friends.

Best Scene: It’s tough…instead of one single scene I’d say I quite enjoy Ben’s first visit to Vegas, which comprises several scenes. It’s a bit of a rush for the viewer.

Worst Scene: God, anything with Laurence Fishburne’s character. I’ll go with the one where he’s threatening Ben. It’s so overwrought, and the payoff later on falls flat.

Best Character: Kevin Spacey's Mickey Rose (or Rosa) is really good - classic evil deadpan Spacey. I also like his nerdy chubby friend.

Worst Character: Do I have to say it? Laurence Fishburne's character!

Soundtrack of Our Lives: This movie has a fantastic soundtrack of indie pop chart toppers, kicking off MGMT's 'Time to Pretend' during the opening credits.

If You Like This You’ll Also Like: Logically, the Ocean’s 11/12/13 series is probably the best set of Vegas caper films ever. Although 12, not so much.

Overall Grade: 3/5

21 Grams
Starring: Naomi Watts, Sean Penn, Benecio Del Toro
CoStarring: Charlotte Gainsbourg, Danny Huston, Carly Nahon
Times Watched: 1
Genre: Drama
RT / Metacritic: 81%/70

The Road To Ownership: The boyfriend brought this to our amalgamated collection of films. I believe he’s seen it 3 times as of last night’s viewing.

The Plot: Told in a linear fashion, the plot is pretty straightforward. Cristina (Naomi Watts) is a former drug addict turned suburban mom, when her husband and children are accidentally mowed down by a former ex-con named Jack (Benecio Del Toro) turned Jesus worshipper. At the hospital, Cristina makes the tough decision to give her husband’s heart to a gravely ill man named Paul (Sean Penn). He in turn seeks out the donor of his heart, learns about Cristina’s family, and tries to comfort her. The two end up in a romantic entanglement, at the centre of which is a heated plot to kill Jack. There are a bunch of other subplots – Jack’s guilt and family struggles, Paul’s wife Mary trying desperately hard to have a baby, and Cristina’s return to substance abuse…but that’s the gist of it. The twist is that NONE of this happens linearly. Not entirely anyway…the film does end where you expect it to end, but there are flashes forward and backward throughout.

The Good & The Bad: Hilarious! The whole movie I kept on thinking about how this movie reminded me of Babel, and it turns out they’re done by the same guy. They both have a similar intertwining, scattered narrative with a gritty feel and shooting style.

Anyway, 21 Grams is disorienting at first. It’s easy enough to puzzle where the story meets up, and relatively easy to follow the time jumping, but not so much on the direction the plot is headed in. The story gets more clear as time goes on, and ultimately the movie wouldn’t have been half as interesting had it been told linearly, but seriously…sometimes I wanted to just have everything laid out properly.

There are great performances turned in here by all three leads, in particular Naomi Watts, who well deserved her Oscar nod the year the movie came out. It’s also a fun guessing game towards the beginning to figure out where specific moments will fall into the timeline (i.e. Paul at the liquor mart with Cristina for example). I never felt myself getting weepy – the film is too scattered to let you get as fully invested as you could – and I knew more or less how things were going to end, but the film still managed to surprise me.

Still, I find Inarritu’s movies a little tedious. 21 Grams reminded me of all the Oscar films I watched this year that I basically felt like I never wanted to watch again, although unlike 21, I think repeated viewings might make for a fun test to immediately properly place each scene in the timeline.

Best Scene: Cristina’s final crazy breakdown with Paul in the kitchen about life not going on was pretty heartbreaking. It served as a relatively believable catalyst for the remainder of the plot.

Worst Scene: I had issues with fully understanding Jack Jordan the character. Maybe it’s because Benecio Del Toro bothers me as an actor…I can’t get past his distinct look or something. He seemed like a bit of a Christian fundamentalist, but not. I hated the scene with his children at the dinner table hitting one another. Also I didn’t get all the Sean Penn stalking around like a maniac with a gun scenes.

Best Character: Naomi Watt's performance is compelling, but it's partially because the character is equally so. There is a big cognitive leap from her being a junkie to being a suburban housewife to the state she's in by the film's end. I had the most questions about her.

Worst Character: Sean Penn's wife! Her singular obsession with having a child was a bit aggravating, especially during the big reveal with the abortion.

Soundtrack of Our Lives: Music is pretty sparingly used throughout, so not much to say really.

If You Like This You’ll Like:
Babel, definitely. They are incredibly similar, without being alike at all.

Overall Grade:

- Britt's On


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