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.
At some point in the early years of the 21st century a bunch of Hollywood executives must have gotten together and decided that animated films should be made for all audiences. The goal was perhaps to make movies that are simultaneously accessible to the older and younger sets with colorful imagery that one expects from children’s films and two levels of humor: one that’s quite literal and harmless and another that’s somewhat subversive. The criteria has resulted in cross-generational hits like Wall-E and Madagascar and though it’s nice to be able to take my nephew to the movies and be as entertained by cartoon characters as he is I can’t help but wonder what happened to unabashedly innocent animated classics like A Goofy Movie and The Land Before Time?
Disney’s Winnie The Pooh is the answer to the Shrek’s and Hoodwinked!’s of the world: a short sweet simple and lighthearted tale of friendship that doesn’t need pop-culture references or snarky dialogue to put a smile on your face. Directors Stephen J. Anderson and Don Hall found some fresh ways to deliver adorable animation while keeping the carefree spirit of A.A. Milne’s source material in tact. Their story isn’t the most original; the first part of the film finds Pooh Piglet Tigger and Owl searching for Eeyore’s tail (a common plot point in the books and past Pooh films) and hits all the predictable notes but the second half mixes things up a bit as the crew searches for a missing Christopher Robin whom they believe has been kidnapped by a forest creature known as the “Backson” (it’s really just the result of the illiterate Owl or is it?).
The beauty of hand-drawn animation all but forgotten until recently is what makes Winnie the Pooh so incredibly magnetic. There’s an inexplicable crispness to the colors and characters that CG just can’t duplicate. It’s a more personal practice for the filmmakers and should provide a refreshing experience for audiences who have become jaded with the pristine presentation of computerized imagery. The film is bookended by brief live-action shots from inside Robin’s room an interesting dynamic that plays up the simplicity of youth ties it to these beloved characters and brings you right back to memories of your own childhood.
With a just-over-an-hour run time Winnie the Pooh is short enough to hold the attention of children but won’t bore the parents who will love the film mainly for nostalgic musings. Still it’s the young’uns who will most enjoy this breezy bright and enchanting film that proves old-school characters can appeal to new moviegoers.
The God of Legion secular Hollywood’s latest Biblically-inspired action flick is old-school an angry spiteful Almighty with a penchant for Old Testament theatrics. Fed up with humanity’s decadent warmongering ways He’s decided to pull the plug on the whole crazy experiment and start over from scratch.
Fortunately for us the God of Legion is also a rather lazy fellow. Instead of doing the apocalyptic work himself and wiping us out with a giant flood which worked perfectly well last time He opts to delegate the task to His army of angels — a questionable strategy that starts to fall apart when the archangel charged with leading the planned extermination Michael (Paul Bettany) refuses to comply.
Michael who unlike his boss still harbors affection for our sorry species abandons his post and descends to earth where inside the swollen belly of Charlie (Adrianne Palicki) an unwed mother-to-be working as a waitress in an out-of-the-way diner sits humanity’s lone hope for survival. Why is this particular baby so important? Is it the one destined to lead us to victory over Skynet? Heaven knows — Legion reveals little details its script devoid of actual scripture. What is clear is that God’s celestial hitmen want the kid whacked before it’s born.
But Michael won’t let humanity fall without a fight. Armed with a Waco-sized arsenal of assault weapons he hunkers down with the diner’s patrons a largely superfluous collection of thinly-sketched caricatures from various demographic groups led by Dennis Quaid as the diner’s grizzled owner Tyrese Gibson as a hip-hop hustler and Lucas Black as a simple-minded country boy.
Together they mount a heroic final stand against hordes of angels who’ve taken possession of “weak-willed” humans turning kindly old grandmas and mild-mannered ice cream vendors into snarling ravenous foul-mouthed beasts. They descend upon the ramshackle diner in a series of full-frontal assaults commanded by the archangel Gabriel (Kevin Durand) the George Pickett of End of Days generals.
Beneath its superficial religious facade Legion is really just a run-of-the-mill zombie flick a Biblical I Am Legend. Bettany an actor accustomed to smaller dramatic roles in films like A Beautiful Mind and The Da Vinci Code looks perfectly at ease in his first major action role wielding machine guns and bowie knives with equal aplomb. Conversely first-time director Scott Stewart a former visual effects artist does little to prove himself worthy of such a promotion serving up some impressive CGI work but not much else worthy of note.
The Dark Knight (Warner Bros), which has generated an estimated $315M since opening 10 days ago, has provided a huge boost to the film industry. 2007 was a record-breaker for the business with a total domestic take of $9.65 billion, almost 5 percent better than 2007. The current year is at $5.66 billion so far, which is less than 1 percent behind last year’s pace.
The final five months of 2008 look very strong, and I believe that Hollywood will set a new all-time box office record, proving once again that the movie business is recession proof. Gas prices have led to more “staycations,” and at a national average of just over $7 for a movie ticket, a trip to the local multiplex remains a very good value .
In 2007, the August-thru-December period included 4 films that went on to gross $200M+, 10 movies that ultimately surpassed $100M domestic and 13 titles that topped $75M in U.S. ticket sales.
December 14 - I Am Legend (Warner Bros) - $256.39M
August 3 – The Bourne Ultimatum (Universal) - $227.47M
December 21 – National Treasure: Book of Secrets (Disney) - $219.96M
December 14 – Alvin & The Chipmunks (Fox) - $217.32M
December 5 – Juno (Fox Searchlight) - $143.49M
August 10 – Rush Hour 3 (New Line) - $140.12M
November 2 – American Gangster (Universal) - $130.16M
November 21 – Enchanted (Disney) - $127.8M
November 2 – Bee Movie (Dreamworks/Paramount) - $126.63M
August 17 – Superbad (Sony) - $121.46M
December 25 – The Bucket List (Warner Bros) - $93.46M
September 28 – The Game Plan (Disney) - $90.63M
November 16 – Beowulf (Dreamworks/Paramount) - $82.19M
I am projecting that this year’s August-thru-December period will feature at least 2 films with $200M+, 11 movies surpassing $100M domestic and 2 more that seem certain to get past $75M. Plus, there are seven more “Wild Card” movies with real breakout potential.
November 7 – Madagascar 2 (Dreamworks/Paramount)
Everyone at Dreamworks Animation is very high on this one. The original 2005 movie finished with $193M US, and this one has a real shot at $200M domestic.
November 21 – Harry Potter & The Half Blood Prince (Warner Bros)
There is a guaranteed $250M in a Harry Potter movie, The last November HP release was Goblet of Fire, which hit $290M. It is fair to expect something in that range.
August 1 – The Mummy: Tomb of the Dragon Emperor (Universal)
Should easily top $100M in its US theatrical engagements. Industry tracking looks exceedingly solid, and Brendan Fraser has the “family-friendly action star” thing down pat.
August 15 – Tropic Thunder (Dreamworks/Paramount)
I long ago tapped this as the late summer’s biggest hit. Robert Downey Jr. will have his second consecutive $100M, and look out for Tom Cruise, who reportedly steals the movie.
August 15 – Star Wars: The Clone Wars (Warner Bros)
My guess is that anything with Star Wars in the title and the George Lucas seal of approval is good for at least $100M.
October 24 – High School Musical 3: Senior Year (Disney)
No-brainer. The Disney Channel phenomenon comes to the big screen and $100M is a certainty. The on-again, off-again real-life romance of Zac Efron and Vanessa Hudgens will make great copy, and director Kenny Ortega has this formula down.
November 7 – Quantum of Solace (Sony)
Bond is Bond, and Daniel Craig is the best version since Sean Connery. I do not love the title, but my gut says it will be the biggest Jame Bond movie ever.
December 12 – The Day the Earth Stood Still (Fox)
I saw the trailer on the big screen for the first time before The The Dark Knight, and the audience seemed to respond well. I have my reservations, namely Keanu Reeves as Klaatu, but there is always room for an aliens attack/end of the world movie with a lot of great F/X.
December 12 – Seven Pounds (Sony)
Will Smith has 8 consecutive $100M grossing hits, and I do not think that streak will be broken here. Director Gabriel Muccino and the rest of the creative team from The Pursuit of Happyness return with the world’s biggest star in tow, and it cannot miss.
December 19 - Yes Man (Warner Bros)
Jim Carrey is coming off of The Number 23, his weakest live action film since The Majestic, but he is returning to his fool-proof brand of comedy. Funny premise. Life-affirming, feel-good movie for the holidays. Feels like a very safe bet for $100M+.
December 25 – Bedtime Stories (Disney)
In the same slot as last year’s Night At the Museum, Ben Stiller returns in a family-friendly story about a handyman whose bedtime stories begin to become real.
August 6 – Pineapple Express (Sony)
Huge buzz. The formerly humorless James Franco reportedly steals the show with an outrageously funny performance. This picture has a shot at $75M-$100M.
October 3 - Beverly Hills Chihuahua (Disney)
Part of what should be a huge fourth quarter for Disney. Talking chihuahuas, Disney’s marketing machine and an all-star Latino voice cast should bring tweens and families--especially Latino families. Salma Hayek, Andy Garcia, Edward James Olmos, Cheech Marin, Paul Rodriguez and George Lopez lend their voices along with Drew Barrymore. There is at least $75M in this family film.
September 26 – Eagle Eye (Dreamworks/Paramount)
Director DJ Caruso and Shia LaBeouf, who scored a surprise hit with Disturbia, re-team on a thriller coming to theatres in late September.
September 26 – Miracle at St. Anna (Disney)
Spike Lee’s WWII drama about four African-American soldiers sounds uplifting, but his venomous back-and-forth with Clint Eastwood has taken some of the shine off of this project. Lee’s last movie, Inside Man, was his most accessible film yet.
October 10 – Body of Lies (Warner Bros)
Oscar winner William Monaghan (The Departed) has adapted the excellent David Ignatius novel of the same name. With director Ridley Scott and Leonardo DiCaprio and Russell Crowe in the leads this picture could break out the way R-rated titles like The Departed and American Gangster did the last two years in this release slot.
October 17 – W (Lionsgate)
It is certain to be much talked-about, especially a few weeks before the Presidential election. This is an A-list cast and Oliver Stone’s typically creative version of the truth, and it may score big.
November 26 – Bolt (Disney)
With at least 800 3D locations (probably more by late November) and Miley Cyrus providing one of the voices, this animated movie will be a big family event for the Thanksgiving holiday weekend.
December 12 – Twilight (Summit Entertainment)
I have not read the books that spawned this film (probably because I am not a teenage girl), but there is no question that there is a huge audience waiting with bated breath for the film adaptation of Stephenie Meyer’s series of novels. Hard to say how big the film will fly, but it certainly has a shot at $75M.
December 19 – The Curious Case of Benjamin Button (Paramount)
Brad Pitt stars as a man who begins aging backwards. With a script by Oscar winner Eric Roth (Forrest Gump, The Insider) and directed by David Fincher (Zodiac, Se7en), there is a real Oscar pedigree here, and there could be significant commercial upside.
Go to our Box Office section for recent weekend movie analysis.
On a day in which the nation was being urged to pray for the victims and families of the World Trade Center attack, comments reportedly made by the Revs. Jerry Falwell and Pat Robertson on Robertson's The 700 Club Thursday were igniting debate among the nation's laymen and clergy. Falwell blamed "the pagans, and the abortionists, and the feminists and the gays and lesbians ... the ACLU, People for the American Way" and groups "who have tried to secularize America" for contributing to what occurred in New York. "I point the finger in their face and say, 'You helped this happen,'" Falwell reportedly declared on the program, which is carried by the Fox Family Channel, recently purchased by the Walt Disney Co.
Robertson responded: "Well, I totally concur, and the problem is we have adopted their agenda at the highest levels of our government." When asked about the ministers' remarks on ABC's Good Morning America Friday morning, the Rev. Forrest Church, pastor of the All Souls Unitarian Church in Manhattan, commented, "If we respond with this kind of hatred and this kind of bigotry, we really become abettors to the very sin that we are trying to extirpate."