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.
When it comes to Sofia Vergara, what you see is what you get. What you see is someone unfathomably gorgeous, and what you get is someone who can make you laugh, even if you didn't quite understand what she just said. So it was of no real surprise that Saturday Night Live banked heavily on Vergara's stunning looks and broken accent for last night's episode. (Hey, if Modern Family can rely on it every week, why not SNL?)
After a too-long Mitt Romney cold open featuring (the-soon-to-be-departed?) Jason Sudeikis (though his botched "Hey New York, let's start the show" served as a funny alternative to the classic "Live from New York, it's Saturday night"), Vergara took the stage at Studio 8H for her first time as host. In a slinky black dress, Vergara talked about the town in Colombia she grew up in (it translated roughly to "Cleveland"), her son Manolo (who was in the audience), her stare-causing cleavage, and, of course, her ability to "make anything sexy," including "gonorrhea," "Rick Santorum," and "New Jersey." So, yeah, her looks and her accent. Watch it here:
This isn't to say that even if Vergara's brand of comedy is predictable, it's not enjoyable or funny. There's something infinitely likable about the actress (yes, fellas, we know what you like about her) and her willingness to have fun on camera. (Quick sidebar, did anyone else notice there were no less than five commercials featuring Vergara during the breaks, including a Three Stooges preview, which got nary a mention in the actual show?)
Following up a silly new pre-recorded bit with Sudeikis and fellow rumored exiting cast member Andy Samberg as "not gay" friends sporting "Not Gay" booty shorts and tank tops, SNL wisely opted to bring back Abby Elliott's "Quirky Girl with Zooey Deschanel." While the effort wasn't nearly as strong as when Deschanel herself appeared in the sketch when she hosted earlier this year, it was still hilarious to watch Elliott poke fun at her mannerisms ("I look like a guilty baby") and Taran Killam's delightfully squeaky Michael Cera impression. This time around, Kristen Wiig (who previously played Bjork) did a spot-on impression of Drew Barrymore, Samberg took a shot at "Jewish Strawberry Shortcake" Mayim Bialik, and Vergara got her first shot at a sketch by playing another amplified comedienne, Fran Drescher. Vergara knocked it out of the park, but if you were watching in a household where anyone was asleep, there's no question Vergara's imitation of Drescher's infamous laugh woke them up. If Vergara's comedy is one-note, that note is incredibly loud. Watch it below. Though, you may want to turn the volume on your computer down.
The other new pre-recorded segment of the night was a fake commercial for a food (?) product called Almost Pizza, in which the always-top notch Bill Hader and his family try to figure out the mystery product. It was a short, effective, funny bit peppered into an even with sketches that couldn't quite pull that off. Case in point: The groan-worthy sketch featuring Fred Armisen as a newscaster who can't figure out how to smile for the camera. Not only did SNL try out a sketch just like this already this season with SportsCenter broadcasters, but Armisen already realized the hard way that repeating an already ho-hum concept (remember when he kept getting hit by a car in the dreadful Lindsay Lohan ep?) doesn't make it funnier if you keep going. Although the sketch did accomplish the near-impossible: It made Vergara fade in the background. Aside from Vergara -- who, unsurprisingly, played a sexy sex ed teacher who mispronounced words in the Gilly sketch -- there were some other newbies to the SNL family last night. Kate McKinnon began her new gig as a cast member (more on that later) while wildly popular Brit import boy band One Direction made their SNL musical guest debut. Despite looking a little nervous (who could blame them?), the group sounded quite good as they crooned their hits "What Makes You Beautiful" and "One Thing," much to the delight of their hardcore fans. One Direction may look a little different from the boy bands of yore, but the vibe, and those ruthlessly catchy songs, are still very much the same. Seriously, between the return of the boy bands and the fact that both Titanic and the American Pie gang are back in theaters, it's pretty safe to say the '90s are back.
SNL decided not to waste the appearance of the young stars (there's no question there were some kids up far past their bedtime last night) and had the five singers appear in "The Manuel Ortiz Show." In fact, the members of One Direction managed to upstage a blonde Vergara and a mustached Hader for the predictable recurring sketch. (Yes, I realize I skipped right over the recycled "Lil Poundcake" commercial and "Weekend Update," but with the exception of a visit from Bobby Moynihan's consistently hilarious Drunk Uncle, not much else happened.) But, back to McKinnon. The newbie didn't get a chance to show her stuff until later in the show when she appeared as the testy Tabatha from Bravo's Tabatha Takes Over for Killam's funny send-up of Andy Cohen ("I'm like a shark, if I stop moving, I die") and Watch What Happens Live. While McKinnon may have been trumped by Killam's impression of the excitable, cute Cohen and Kenan Thompson playing Bishop Desmond Tutu (would anybody else totally watch Tutu Hot Tutu Handle?), she still made an impression. Watch her debut here:
McKinnon relied on doing an impression again for the next sketch, a send-up of Pantene commercials that featured Vergara as herself and McKinnon as Penelope Cruz. In it, Cruz appeared in a commercial with Vergara, who seems to be getting all the easy words to pronounce. Even though the sketch was predictably on-par with most of the night's bits that relied on the humor of Vergara's mangled accent, it was fascinating to watch and consider what's next for McKinnon. With Wiig possibly leaving, the show will be in dire need for a strong female performer than can pull off impressions as flawlessly as she does. McKinnon looks like she could be up for the task, but she could fall into the Jay Pharoah impressions-only trap. It's too soon to tell, but her brief introduction hinted at more of the former than the latter.
The episode wrapped with a suprisingly weak Hunger Games sketch (though Hader as Caeser Flickerman could give Stanley Tucci a run for his money) in which Vergara played a newscaster thrust into the middle of the murderous action. Sorry, but The Hunger Games Puppy Bowl would have been much better. While last night wasn't the strongest outing of the season (no one has trumped Jimmy Fallon or Maya Rudolph yet), credit has to be given to a game Sofia Vergara and a squeal-inducing One Direction. Next week Josh Brolin and musical guest Gotye will have their shot at getting the last few episodes of the season to end on a high note.
What did you think of last night's SNL? What did you think of Sofia Vergara as host? Anyone else notice Bill Hader sweetly congratulating McKinnon during the closing credits? Would you agree One Direction stole the whole show? More importantly, what was louder, Vergara's screams or the screams One Direction's fans?
[Photo credit: NBC]
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