There's an allure to imperfection. With his latest drama Lawless director John Hillcoat taps directly into the side of human nature that draws us to it. Hillcoat finds it in Prohibition history a time when the regulations of alcohol consumption were subverted by most of the population; He finds it in the rural landscapes of Virginia: dingy raw and mesmerizing. And most importantly he finds it in his main character Jack Bondurant (Shia LaBeouf) the scrappy third brother of a moonshining family who is desperate to prove his worth. Jack forcefully injects himself into the family business only to discover there's an underbelly to the underbelly. Lawless is a beautiful film that's violent as hell striking in a way only unfiltered Americana could be.
Acting as the driver for his two outlaw brothers Forrest (Tom Hardy) and Howard (Jason Clarke) isn't enough for Jack. He's enticed by the power of the gangster figure and entranced by what moonshine money can buy. So like any fledgling entrepreneur Jack takes matters into his own hands. Recruiting crippled family friend/distillery mastermind Cricket (Dane DeHaan) the young whippersnapper sets out to brew his own batch sell it to top dog Floyd Banner and make the family rich. The plan works — but it puts the Bondurant boys in over their heads with a new threat: the corrupt law enforcers of Chicago.
Unlike many stories of crime life Lawless isn't about escalation. The movie drifts back and forth leisurely popping in moments like the beats of a great TV episode. One second the Bondurants could be talking shop with their female shopkeep Maggie Beauford (Jessica Chastain). The next Forrest is beating the bloody pulp out of a cop blackmailing their operation. The plot isn't thick; Hillcoat and screenwriter Nick Cave preferring to bask in the landscapes the quiet moments the haunting terror that comes with a life on the other side of the tracks. A feature film doesn't offer enough time for Lawless to build — it recalls cinema-level TV currently playing on outlets like HBO and AMC that have truly spoiled us — but what the duo accomplish is engrossing.
Accompanying the glowing visuals and Cave's knockout workout on the music side (a toe-tapping mix of spirituals bluegrass and the writer/musician's spine-tingling violin) are muted performances from some of Hollywood's rising stars. Despite LaBeouf's off-screen antics he lights up Lawless and nails the in-deep whippersnapper. His playful relationship with a local religious girl (Mia Wasikowska) solidifies him as a leading man but like everything in the movie you want more. Tom Hardy is one of the few performers who can "uurrr" and "mmmnerm" his way through a scene and come out on top. His greatest sparring partner isn't a hulking thug but Chastain who brings out the heart of the impenetrable beast. The real gem of Lawless is Guy Pearce as the Bondurant trio's biggest threat. Shaved eyebrows pristine city clothes and a temper like a rabid wolverine Pearce's Charlie Rakes is the most frightening villain of 2012. He viciously chews up every moment he's on screen. That's even before he starts drawing blood.
Lawless is the perfect movie for the late August haze — not quite the Oscary prestige picture or the summertime shoot-'em-up. It's drama that has its moonshine and swigs it too. Just don't drink too much.
While recent animated blockbusters have aimed to viewers of all ages starting with fantastical concepts and breathtaking visuals but tackling complex emotional issues along the way Ice Age: Continental Drift is crafted especially for the wee ones — and it works. Venturing back to prehistoric times once again the fourth Ice Age film paints broad strokes on the theme of familial relationships throwing in plenty of physical comedy along the way. The movie isn't that far off from one of the many Land Before Time direct-to-video sequels: not particularly innovative or necessary but harmless thrilling fun for anyone with a sense of humor. Unless they have a particular distaste for wooly mammoths the kids will love it.
Ice Age: Continental Drift continues to snowball its cartoon roster bringing back the original film's trio (Ray Romano as Manny the Mammoth Denis Leary as Diego the Sabertooth Tiger and John Leguizamo as Sid the Sloth) new faces acquired over the course of the franchise (Queen Latifah as Manny's wife Ellie) and a handful of new characters to spice things up everyone from Nicki Minaj as Manny's daughter Steffie to Wanda Sykes as Sid's wily grandma. The whole gang is living a pleasant existence as a herd with Manny's biggest problem being playing overbearing dad to the rebellious daughter. Teen mammoths they always want to go out and play by the waterfall! Whippersnappers.
The main thrust of the film comes when Scratch the Rat (whose silent comedy routines in the vein of Tex Avery/WB cartoons continue to be the series highlight) accidentally cracks the singular continent Pangea into the world we know today. Manny Diego and Sid find themselves stranded on an iceberg once again forced on a road trip journey of survival. The rest of the herd embarks to meet them giving Steffie time to realize the true meaning of friendship with help from her mole pal Louis (Josh Gad).
The ham-handed lessons may drag for those who've passed Kindergarten but Ice Age: Continental Drift is a lot of fun when the main gang crosses paths with a group of villainous pirates. (Back then monkeys rabbits and seals were hitting the high seas together pillaging via boat-shaped icebergs. Obviously.) Quickly Ice Age becomes an old school pirate adventure complete with maritime navigation buried treasure and sword fights. Gut (Peter Dinklage) an evil ape with a deadly... fingernail leads the evil-doers who pose an entertaining threat for the familiar bunch. Jennifer Lopez pops by as Gut's second-in-command Shira the White Tiger and the film's two cats have a chase scene that should rouse even the most apathetic adults. Hearing Dinklage (of Game of Thrones fame) belt out a pirate shanty may be worth the price of admission alone.
With solid action (that doesn't need the 3D addition) cartoony animation and gags out the wazoo Ice Age: Continental Drift is entertainment to enjoy with the whole family. Revelatory? Not quite. Until we get a feature length silent film of Scratch's acorn pursuit we may never see a "classic" Ice Age film but Continental Drift keeps it together long enough to tell a simple story with delightful flare that should hold attention spans of any length. Massive amounts of sugar not even required.
[Photo Credit: 20th Century Fox]
The Amazing Spider-Man would prefer if you didn't call it the fourth Spider-Man movie. See this ain't the Spider-Man your older brother knew from ten years ago — it's a reboot. The latest adventure to feature the comic book webslinger throws three movies worth of established mythology straight out the window swapping the original cast with an ensemble of fresh faces and resetting the franchise with a spiffy new origin story. "New" in the loosest sense of the word — the highlights of ASM mainly a sleek new design and spunky reinterpretation of Peter Parker (Andrew Garfield) and gal pal Gwen Stacey (Emma Stone) are weighed down by overpowering sense of familiarity. Nearly a beat for beat replica of the 2002 original with some irksome twists of mystery thrown in Amazing Spider-Man fails to evolve its hero or his quarrels. The film has a great sense of cinematic power but little responsibility in making it interesting.
We're first introduced to Peter Parker as a young boy watching as his parents rush out of the house in response to a hidden danger. Mr. and Mrs. Parker leave their son in the care of his Aunt May (Sally Fields) and Uncle Ben (Martin Sheen) who raise him into Andrew Garfield's geeky cool spin on the character. Parker's a science whiz but faces the challenges of every day life — passing classes talking to girls the occasional jock with aggression issues — but all of life's woes are put on hold when the teen discovers a new clue in the mystery behind his parents' disappearance. The discovery of his dad's old briefcase and notes leads Peter to Dr. Curt Connors (Rhys Ifans) a scientist working for mega-conglomerate Oscorp and his Dad's old partner. When they cross paths Connors instantly takes a liking to the wunderkind and loops him into the work he started with his father: replicating the regeneration abilities of lizards in amputee humans (Connors is driven to reform his own missing arm). But when Parker wanders into Oscorp's room full of spiders (a sloppily explained this-needs-to-be-here-for-this-to-happen device) he receives his legendary spider bite that transforms him into the hero we know.
Director Marc Webb (500 Days of Summer) desperately wants Amazing Spider-Man to work as a high school relationship movie but with the burden of massive amounts of plot and mythology to introduce the movie sags under the sheer volume of stuff. Stone turns Parker's object of affection Gwen Stacey into a three-dimensional character. Whenever they happen upon each other an awkward exchange in the hallway a flirtatious back-and-forth in the Oscorp lab (where Stacey is head…intern) or when the two finally begin a romantic relationship the two stars shine. They're vivid characters chopped to bits in the editing room diluted by boring franchise-building plot threads and routine action sequences. Seriously Amazing Spider-Man another mad scientist villain who uses himself as a test subject only to become a monster? And another bridge rescue scene? Amazing Spider-Man desperately wants to disconnect from the original trilogy but it's trapped in an inescapable shadow and does nothing radical to shake things up. Instead it settles for the same old same old while preparing for inevitable sequels instead of investing in its dynamic duo.
There's a sweet spot where the film really hits his stride. After discovering his spider-abilities Peter hits the streets for the first time. He's superhuman but still a headstrong teen full of obnoxious quips and close calls with shiv-wielding thugs. The action is slick small and playful Webb showing us something new by melding his indie sensibilities with big scale action. If only it lasted — the introduction of Ifans reptilian half The Lizard implodes Amazing Spider-Man into incomprehensible blockbuster chaos. A gargantuan beast wreaking havoc around New York City promises King Kong-like escapades for the friendly neighborhood Spider-Man but the lizard man has other plans: to rule the world! Or something. Whatever it takes to get Lizard and Spider-Man fighting on the top of a skyscraper over a doomsday machine — logic be damned.
Amazing Spider-Man peppers its banal foundation with great talent from Denis Leary as Gwen's wickedly funny dad and the police captain hunting down Spider-Man to Fields and Sheen as two loving adults in Peter's life to Garfield and Stone whose chemistry demands a follow-up for the sake of seeing them reunited. But it's all at the cost of putting on the most expensive recreation of all time with new demands imposed by the success Marvel's other properties (except that franchise teasing worked). Amazing Spider-Man introduces too many ideas that go nowhere undermining the actual threat at hand. No one wants to be unfulfilled but that's the overriding difference between the original movie and the update. You need to pay for the sequel to know what the heck is going on in this one.
As with seemingly every other tentpole release to hit the multiplex this summer the action thriller Cowboys & Aliens is based on a comic book – albeit a lesser-known one. It’s directed by Jon Favreau whose previous comic-book adaptations Iron Man and Iron Man 2 proved how much better those films can be when they’re grounded in character. Unfortunately his latest effort is grounded not in character but a hook an alt-history scenario best expressed in the language of the average twelve-year-old: “Like wouldn’t it be awesome if like a bunch of 1870s cowboys had to fight a bunch of crazy aliens with exoskeletons and spaceships and super-advanced weapons?”
Like perhaps. The hook was compelling enough to get someone to pony up a reported $160 million to find out and the result is a film in which the western and science-fiction genres don’t so much blend as violently collide. After the wreckage is cleared both emerge worse for wear.
Daniel Craig stars as Jake Lonergan a stranger who awakens in the New Mexico Territory with a case of amnesia a wound in his side and a strange contraption strapped to his wrist. After dispatching a trio of bandits with Bourne-like efficiency he rides to the nearby town of Absolution where he stumbles on what appears to be an elaborate Western Iconography exhibit presented by the local historical preservation society. There’s the well-meaning town Sheriff Taggart (Keith Carradine) struggling to enforce order amidst lawlessness; the greedy rancher Colonel Dolarhyde (Harrison Ford) who really runs things; his debaucherous cowardly son Percy (Paul Dano); the timid saloonkeeper Doc (Sam Rockwell) who’s going to stand up for himself one of these days; the humble preacher Meacham (Clancy Brown) dispensing homespun spiritual advice; et al.
Jake of course has his own part to play – the fugitive train-robber – as we discover when his face shows up on a wanted poster and a sneering Dolarhyde fingers him for the theft of his gold. The only character who doesn’t quite conform to type is Ella (Olivia Wilde) who as neither a prostitute nor some man’s wife – the traditional female occupations in westerns – immediately arouses suspicion.
Jake is arrested and ordered to stand trial in Federal court but before he can be shipped off a squadron of alien planes appears in the sky besieging Absolution and making off with several of its terrified citizenry. In the course of the melee Jake’s wrist contraption wherever it came from reveals itself to be quite useful in defense against the alien invaders. Thrown by circumstances into an uneasy alliance with Dolarhyde he helps organize a posse to counter the otherworldly threat – and bring back the abductees if possible.
Cowboys & Aliens has many of the ingredients of a solid summer blockbuster but none in sufficient amounts to rate in a summer season crowded with bigger-budget (and better-crafted) spectacle. For a film with five credited screenwriters Cowboys & Aliens’ script is sorely lacking for verve or imagination. And what happened to the Favreau of Iron Man? The playful cheekiness that made those films so much fun is all but absent in this film which takes itself much more seriously than any film called Cowboys & Aliens has a right to. Dude you’ve got men on horses with six-shooters battling laser-powered alien crab people. Lighten up.
Craig certainly looks the part of the western anti-hero – his only rival in the area of rugged handsomeness is Viggo Mortensen – but his character is reduced to little more than an angry glare. And Wilde the poor girl is burdened with loads of clunky exposition. The two show promising glimpses of a romantic spark but their relationship remains woefully underdeveloped. Faring far better is Ford who gets not only the bulk of the film’s choicest lines but also its only touching subplot in which his character’s adopted Indian son played by Adam Beach quietly coaxes the humanity out of the grizzled old man.
The Academy of Motion Picture Arts and Sciences unveiled its commemorative poster for the 77th Academy Awards Wednesday--a design created by Brett Davidson, an unknown newcomer who has been on staff at the Academy for 10 years and currently serves as the organization's information systems support specialist.
Davidson's design was chosen through a blind selection process by Academy executives and members of its Board of Governors. "We looked at dozens of designs but there was something about Brett's image that we all were drawn to; it was a unanimous decision," the Academy's executive director Bruce Davis said in the press statement. "It was only after we had made the decision that we found out the designer was one of our own staff. It's great for Brett to have this opportunity."
"I was so excited when I found out my design had been chosen," said Davidson, who studied both film and graphic design at the University of Miami in Florida. "Graphic design has always been my passion, so it's unbelievably gratifying that my work will be used to promote such a prestigious event."
Meanwhile, Variety reports the Academy has picked the 12 finalists who will compete for a coveted nomination in the Best Documentary category, including Morgan Spurlock's Super Size Me, a searing look at the fast-food industry; Stacy Peralta's surfing opus Riding Giants; Mark Wexler's Tell Them Who You Are, a moving portrait of Wexler's father, director Haskell Wexler; and Kevin MacDonald's Touching the Void, a docu based on the book by Joe Simpson about his mountaineering adventures in the Peruvian Andes.
Other titles on the short list were Zana Briski and Ross Kauffman's Born Into Brothels, about impoverished children of prostitutes in Calcutta and Jessica Yu's In the Realms of the Unreal, which follows the life of Henry Darger, a Chicago janitor who penned the 15,000-page children's fantasy novel of the same name.
Michael Moore, who won an Oscar for his previous effort Bowling for Columbine, took his controversial Fahrenheit 9/11 out of the running in the category, contending the move was aimed at opening up the docu race. The film is instead taking a stab at a Best Picture nod.
A handful of other documentaries that should have gotten noticed were disqualified due to having aired on television, either domestically or abroad, including Jehane Noujaim's Control Room, a look at the Al Jazeera's coverage on the Iraq war. Also missing was Metallica: Some Kind of Monster, the fascinating portrait of the '80s metal band, who became riddled with internal strife.
Academy Awards will be presented on Feb. 27, 2005, at the Kodak Theatre and televised on ABC.
The British Academy of Film and Television Arts (BAFTA) recognized some of the year’s best films on Sunday. "Gladiator" was chosen best film, and "Crouching Tiger, Hidden Dragon" took away best foreign-language film honors. Each of these Oscar contenders received four BAFTA awards in total.
Producers Douglas Wick, David Franzoni and Branko Lustig accepted the best film award for "Gladiator," praising director Ridley Scott during their acceptance speech, who lost out on the best director prize to Ang Lee for "Tiger."
Besides best foreign film and best director, "Crouching Tiger" also won for music (Tan Dun) and costume design (Tim Yip). Of BAFTA and the United Kingdom, Lee said: "You've always been great to me. This is like a second home to me now."
“Gladiator” also won the Orange Audience Award for most popular film of 2000. Scott thanked DreamWorks and Universal for their courage in backing a $100 million film in a genre that hadn't been touched for 30 years. "It is especially good to win this on my home turf as I spend so much time in the United States," Scott said during his acceptance speech. "I am absolutely thrilled."
Besides the BAFTA honor for best film, "Gladiator" also picked up awards for cinematography (John Mathieson), production design (Arthur Max) and editing (Pietro Scalia).
British effort "Billy Elliot" won three awards, including best British film, best actor (Jamie Bell) and best supporting actress for Julie Walters.
Julia Roberts was named best actress for her performance in the title role of "Erin Brockovich." Presenter Hugh Grant, and co-star in "Notting Hill," picked up the award for the absentee actress.
Best original screenplay and best sound awards went to Cameron Crowe’s "Almost Famous." Crowe's wife, Nancy Wilson, accepted his award, saying that Crowe was unable to attend the event as a double ear infection prevented him from flying. "He meant this movie as a love letter from his heart to music," Wilson said.
Steven Soderbergh's "Traffic" also won two awards, for adapted screenplay (Stephen Gaghan) and supporting actor (Benicio Del Toro).
Veteran casting director Mary Selway was given the Michael Balcon Award for her outstanding contribution to cinema. Actor Albert Finney was presented with a British Film Academy Fellowship for lifetime achievement, receiving a standing ovation.
The complete list of winners:
THE ACADEMY FELLOWSHIP: Albert Finney
THE MICHAEL BALCON AWARD for outstanding British Contribution to Cinema: Mary Selway
THE ALEXANDER KORDA AWARD for outstanding British Film of the Year: "Billy Elliot"
BEST FILM: "Gladiator"
THE DAVID LEAN AWARD for Achievement in Direction: Ang Lee, "Crouching Tiger, Hidden Dragon"
SCREENPLAY (Original): Cameron Crowe, "Almost Famous"
SCREENPLAY (Adapted): Stephen Gaghan, "Traffic"
PERFORMANCE BY AN ACTRESS in a leading role: Julia Roberts, "Erin Brockovich"
PERFORMANCE BY AN ACTOR in a leading role: Jamie Bell, "Billy Elliot"
PERFORMANCE BY AN ACTRESS in a supporting role: Julie Walters, "Billy Elliot"
PERFORMANCE BY AN ACTOR in a supporting role: Benicio Del Toro, "Traffic"
FILM NOT IN THE ENGLISH LANGUAGE: "Crouching Tiger, Hidden Dragon" (Bill Hong/Hsu Li Kong/Ang Lee )
THE ANTHONY ASQUITH AWARD for achievement in Film Music: Tan Dun, "Crouching Tiger, Hidden Dragon"
THE CARL FOREMAN AWARD for Most Promising Newcomer to British Film: Pawel Pawlikowski
CINEMATOGRAPHY: John Mathieson, "Gladiator"
PRODUCTION DESIGN: Arthur Max, "Gladiator"
COSTUME DESIGN: Tim Yip, "Crouching Tiger, Hidden Dragon"
EDITING: Pietro Scalia, "Gladiator"
SOUND: Jeff Wexler/D.M. Hemphill/Rick Kline/Paul Massey/Mike Wilhoit, "Almost Famous"
ACHIEVEMENT IN SPECIAL VISUAL EFFECTS: Stefen Fangmeier/John Frazier/Walt Conti/Habib Zargarpour/Tim Alexander, "The Perfect Storm"
MAKE UP/HAIR: Rick Baker/Kazuhirop Tsuji/Tony G./Gal Ryan/Sylvia Nava, "How the Grinch Stole Christmas"
SHORT FILM Gary Holding/Justine Leahy/Tinge Krishnan, "Shadowscan"
SHORT ANIMATION: Claire Jennings/Willem Thijssen/Michael Dudok de Wit, "Father and Daughter"
ORANGE AUDIENCE AWARD: "Gladiator"