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.
Near the end of the Tang Dynasty in 10th century China things are not well between the Emperor (Chow Yun-Fat) and his Empress (Gong Li). She serves more as an arm piece to him and begins to suspect that he is poisoning her to keep her subservient. The Emperor brings his son Prince Jai (Jay Chou) to the palace and Jai is concerned for the Empress's health. She also seems to have some sort of hold on her stepson Crown Prince Wan (Liu Ye) who just wants to run away with the palace doctor's daughter Chan (Li Man). With all the scheming and ulterior motives going back and forth it all hits the fan when the Emperor's convoy is attacked by assassins. From here secrets come to light through death and battle as the assassins force both sides' hands. The family relations and dynasty lore may be too complicated to understand in one viewing but that is often the case with these kinds of historical epics especially in a foreign language. Still the elements are beautiful to watch and once it becomes a war movie the threat of boredom is lifted. Curse of the Golden Flower offers traditional epic performances. Gong Li’s Empress may be bitter in servitude angry in conspiracy or pained with tragedy but it's all big dramatics. Few can do it better than Gong. The lavish emotional material is her forte and this is another tragic epic in which she can shine. Chow Yun-Fat does his stoic thing. What makes him the ultimate badass action hero also suits him well as a plotting monarch. Some range of issues face his character but he greets them with a strong even-keeled temper only breaking down in pivotal moments. The assassins serve as a singular character too. They move so gracefully as a single unit you don't even need to see who's under the masks to get the personality of this unstoppable killing machine. Other characters just serve as pawns in the plot. There's the whiny sissy son and lovelorn kids all convincing as they serve their purposes in Gong and Chow's chess game. Curse of the Golden Flower seems to be a culmination of all of director Zhang Yimou's work. It includes period drama with epic tragic themes and even more newfangled martial arts action since his last effort Hero. He also uses color schemes to reflect emotion. Superficial gold barely masks the palace corruption and forest greens welcome in the change brought by the assassins. Golden Flower does seems a tad melodramatic. But the Chinese language is based on subtle sound differences and going over the top may be the only way to convey it. It certainly works for a political intrigue family drama. The best parts of the film are the assassin attacks big but full of nuance. The dark figures flow gracefully through the scenes seeming to defy gravity but not in a Crouching Tiger sort of way. Their acrobatic antics are based on some level of physics at least as the film establishes the group. It's never just clanking swords there's always some careful tactics to enjoy. Combining so many aspects masterfully Curse of the Golden Flower could be Zhang's masterwork.
A dirty cop and a pair of nice-guy bank robbers set out to prove this weekend that crime does indeed pay.
The $22.5 million collared last weekend by Training Day represents Denzel Washington's biggest opening weekend to date. The highly charged tale of police corruption--featuring Washington in a rare villainous turn--continued to play well during the week, earning $28.6 million through Wednesday. Accordingly, Washington should have the muscle to stop his Siege co-star Bruce Willis from stealing off with the box office crown.
Directed by Barry Levinson, Bandits casts Willis and Billy Bob Thornton as affable crooks who gain celebrity for their unusually method of robbing banks. They hold hostage the bank manager the night before a heist, eat dinner with manager and his family, spend the night at his home, and then force him to let them into the bank in the morning.
Previously, Willis and Thornton's efforts to save the world resulted in 1998's Armageddon, which earned $201 million in the process.
Breaking into banks also should be a profitable venture for Willis and Thornton, though not much as Armageddon or Willis' The Sixth Sense, which made $293.5 million. Bandits' success will likely mirror that of Willis' recent hit comedies rather than his celebrated forays into science fiction and the supernatural. The Whole Nine Yards, with Willis as a hitman, claimed $13.7 million in 1999 and eventually made $57.2 million. Disney's The Kid opened in July 2000 with $12.6 million, with summer audiences pushing it to a $69.6 million gross.
At least one person needs Bandits to enjoy a long and sustained run, and that's Levinson. The Rain Man Oscar winner last tasted success with Wag the Dog, the Hollywood satire about a war concocted to conceal a presidential scandal. Wag the Dog, of course, had the good fortune to open wide in January 1998 just as Monicagate captured a nation's attention and President Clinton had launched military action against terrorist targets in Afghanistan and Sudan. The result: a $43 million hit. Since then, Levinson's directed possibly the worst adaptation of a Michael Crichton novel ever, the waterlogged Sphere, which earned a paltry $37.2 million. Liberty Heights, the fourth of Levinson's semi-autobiographical Baltimore-set comedy-dramas, made $3.7 million in early 2000. Levinson's barely released An Everlasting Piece resulted in a lawsuit by its producer, Jerome O'Connor, who claimed that DreamWorks buried the Irish comedy at the request of the British government because of its thorny politics.
Who is Corky Romano? So read the teaser posters for Chris Kattan's new comedy, posters that also prompt the question: Who cares about Corky Romano? Kattan is the latest Saturday Night Live jokester to try his luck as a movie star. It's taken a while for former SNLers Adam Sandler, Rob Schneider and David Spade to establish their silver-screen credentials, so Kattan isn't likely to enjoy instant success. Will Ferrell, the only current SNLer to enjoy a somewhat thriving Hollywood career, seems to have done so by virtue of appearing in anything and everything.
Ferrell and Kattan did dance with disaster with the awful SNL skit-inspired A Night at the Roxbury, which made $30.3 million in the fall of 1998. Kattan's track record also includes the ensemble horror yarn House on Haunted Hill, which made $40.8 million in the fall of 1999, and Monkeybone, whose $5.4 million gross qualifies it as this year's biggest flop.
With Corky Romano already earning dire reviews, and stiff competition in the form of Ben Stiller's still-thriving fashion industry satire Zoolander ($30.2 million through Wednesday), Kattan shouldn't hand that letter of resignation just yet to SNL executive producer Lorne Michaels.
The surprise martial arts smash Crouching Tiger, Hidden Dragon no doubt prompted Miramax to reissue 1993's Iron Monkey, directed by Crouching Tiger action choreographer Yuen Wo Ping. Such releases tend to fare poorly, as witnessed by Miramax's previous attempts to bring to America those annoyingly dubbed versions of Jackie Chan's Hong Kong classics. Last fall's The Legend of Drunken Master, for example, staggered to a pitiful $11.5 million. Iron Monkey does have the advantage of being subtitled--which certainly enhanced Crouching Tiger's statue with the arthouse crowd--but it does lack the presence of a Jackie Chan, Jet Li or Chow Yun-Fat.
Miramax must make do with the popularity of Serendipity, which should enjoy a long and lasting affair with audiences looking for a romantic getaway from the U.S. bombing of Afghanistan. Through Wednesday, John Cusack and Kate Beckinsale have wooed $16.5 million in sales. Beckinsale's Pearl Harbor may have made more on its opening day, but no one went to see the expensive World War II epic for its romantic interludes. Serendipity is outpacing Cusack's bittersweet High Fidelity, which opened in March 2000 with $6.4 million at almost 1,200 theaters and sung its way to $27.2 million. Serendipity does have the advantage of now being in 2,600 theaters.
Don't Say a Word should continue to lose its audience to Training Day and soon to Bandits. Michael Douglas enjoyed his biggest opening weekend gross with Don't Say a Word, but the white-collar thriller won't stand out as one of his most memorable in terms of box office. Having collected $34.3 million through Wednesday, Don't Say a Word looks set to surpass The Game ($48.2 million) but will fail to out do A Perfect Murder ($67.6 million). That's a far cry from Basic Instinct's $117.7 million or Disclosure's $83 million.
Leelee Sobieski certainly learned her lesson about starring in two very disposable and oft-delayed teen-targeted thrillers in a row. The Duel-like Joy Ride, costarring Paul Walker and Steve Zahn, spluttered its way to a $7.3 million opening and has just $9.3 million through Wednesday. That's somewhat better than Sobieski's The Glass House, which opened after last month's terrorist attacks to a very weak $5.7 million and has since collected $16.6 million. Sobieski returns this weekend--and clearly not soon enough--to the arthouse circuit with My First Mister costarring Albert Brooks, a generation-bending variation of The Odd Couple.
Seems the kids failed to take much notice of Max Keeble's Big Move. Keeble has pocketed $6.6 million to date, and will likely end up as filler on the Disney Channel much sooner than later.
Hearts in Atlantis will join The Shawshank Redemption as another underachiever based on one of Stephen King's more mature tales. Shawshank managed to make its unremarkable $28.2 million solely on the strength of its modest Oscar campaign. With its less-than-enthusiastic reviews and $17.6 million gross, the supernatural Anthony Hopkins vehicle will have a tough time climbing to the same lowly height.
Barring a last-minute rally, summer holdovers Rush Hour 2 and The Others could finally drop out of the Top 10 this weekend. Rush Hour 2 ranks as the year's second-highest grossing film, with $221.9 through Wednesday.
The Others remains one of the year's biggest surprises, having enjoyed a lengthy run thanks to its twists and turns. With $91.1 million through Wednesday, the modestly marketed ghost story swept past Nicole Kidman's other summer entry, the lavishly hyped, over-praised and commercially successful Moulin Rouge, with relatively ease. Divorce has obviously been good to Kidman, at least professionally.
Hollywood opens its presents early this weekend with the arrival of a few deluxe-wrapped packages full of good holiday cheer.
"Anna and the King," a richly decorated version of the classic musical "The King and I" sans the music, should pique the interests of romantic moviegoers young and old. It stars Academy Award winner Jodie Foster and Hong Kong action icon Chow Yun-Fat.
Gifts for the kids come in the form of the studio movies "Stuart Little" and "Bicentennial Man." Based on a beloved children's novel, "Stuart Little" tells the live-action adventures of a pet mouse, with a voice provided by Michael J. Fox. In "Bicentennial Man," Robin Williams undergoes a different kind of transformation, playing an android who learns what it means to be human. "Mrs. Doubtfire" director Chris Columbus helms the film.
Other high-profile holiday films opening in limited release include "Simpatico," a drama featuring A-list talents Jeff Bridges, Sharon Stone and Nick Nolte, and "Topsy Turvy," a film about the lives of entertainers William Schwenck Gilbert and Arthur Sullivan, directed by acclaimed filmmaker Mike Leigh ("Secrets & Lies," "Naked").
Below is a list of all the week's releases.
Opening Wednesday, Dec. 15
"Simpatico" (Fine Line) -- Jeff Bridges plays an affluent horse breeder whose reputation threatens to go to ruin when his penitent ex-partner played by Nick Nolte resurfaces to expose a horseracing scam the two masterminded many years ago. Albert Finney plays the innocent man who took the fall for their stint. Sharon Stone co-stars as Bridges' wife.
"Topsy Turvy" (USA) -- Acclaimed director Mike Leigh leaps back in time to enter the lives of two Londoners who were marked by extraordinary creativity: William Schwenck Gilbert and Arthur Sullivan. The film traces the bumpy collaboration of the writer-composer team after a period of declined popularity and creative impasse. Jim Broadbent and Allan Corduner co-star.
Opening Friday, Dec. 17
"Anna and the King" (Fox) -- Based on the diaries of Anna Leonowens, this film casts Jodie Foster as a British governess headed for Thailand to care for the children of the country's king, played by Chow Yun-Fat. By the end of her stay, she's managed to touch the lives of both the children and their father.
"Bicentennial Man" (Buena Vista) -- Robin Williams plays an android who is purchased as a household robot to perform menial tasks. His proud owners quickly learn that they don't have an ordinary robot as Williams begins to exhibit emotions and creative thought. Sam Neill, Oliver Platt and Embeth Davidtz co-star.
"Stuart Little" (Sony) -- Based on the classic children's novel by E.B. White, this animated feature combines live-action with state-of-the-art visual-effects technology to bring the lovable rodent and his adopted human family to life. Geena Davis and Hugh Laurie co-star. Michael J. Fox, Jennifer Tilly and Bruno Kirby provide voices for the animated characters.
"The Emperor and the Assassin" (SPC) -- Renowned Chinese director Chen Kaige and actress Gong Li reunite in this tale of power and ruthless ambition set in feudal China. Li Xuejian portrays a power-hungry king obsessed with becoming the first emperor of unified China, and Li co-stars as his devoted concubine abetting him in the enterprise.
"Magnolia" (New Line) -- "Boogie Nights" director Paul Anderson heads back to the San Fernando Valley for this modern-day tale of intersecting stories that feature "Boogie" alums Julianne Moore, Luis Guzman, William H. Macy, John C. Reilly and Philip Baker Hall. Oh, and megastar Tom Cruise.
"Onegin" (Samuel Goldwyn) -- Set in 1820s Russia, Ralph Fiennes stars as a dashing aristocrat who's brought to the countryside through his inheritance of a large estate. There he acquaints Liv Tyler, a doting young woman whose love he refuses. Six years later, the two meet again on vastly different terms -- he's fallen obsessively in love with Tyler while she's comfortably married to another man.
"Ride With the Devil" (USA) -- Directed by Ang Lee, this Civil War drama stars Tobey Maguire, Skeet Ulrich and Jeffrey Wright as three friends who are avid supporters of the Confederate cause. Fighting as civilians, the three men pledge their allegiance to the South by killing unsuspecting Union soldiers. Singer-songwriter Jewel makes her acting debut as their love interest.
"The Cider House Rules" (Miramax) -- Directed by Lasse Hallstrom ("What's Eating Gilbert Grape") and adapted from John Irving's best-selling novel, this coming-of-age story casts Tobey Maguire as a young man who has spent his entire youth in an orphanage. Hungry for experience, he sets out to explore the world outside. Charlize Theron and Michael Caine co-star.
Li Mu Bai (Chow Yun Fat) is the most skilled martial artist in the region
yet after years of training and fighting he's ready to give it all up to
lead a new peaceful life. Only he's got two more challenges ahead of him:
love and a young mysterious thief with martial arts skills like he's never
seen. Before he can slip into retirement he attempts to make a deal with
the young thief: He'll become her master and polish her martial arts if
she'll turn from her evil ways.
Unlike most martial arts films this one is an equal-opportunity flick -
with the two female co-stars Michelle Yeoh and Zhang Ziyi doing the bulk
of the karate chopping. Their scenes are one of the many highlights
throughout this little gem which is told in the form of an ancient fantasy.
Fat's presence dominates the screen with his portrayal of a wise and highly
skilled martial artist who can deliver deadly damage to a foe with a single
finger jab. Ziyi's also delivers an impeccable performance of a character
who can be innocent at first glance but when provoked can unleash a flurry
of kicks jabs and tumbling acrobatics.
Ang Lee (The Ice Storm Eat Drink Man Woman) adds a very different film
to his impressive repertoire. Here he plays on his childhood fantasies in
Taiwan to create world of ancient martial artists who fly through the air
during their many fighting sequences. As corny as it may seem Lee's
character's supernatural abilities give these sequences an air of elegance
to the martial arts. And he's managed to skillfully blend the special
effects with a romantic subplot in China's beautifully spacious landscapes
of deserts and lush forests.