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.
Troubled by unfortunate event after unfortunate event The Watch sidesteps faux pas to come out on top as a consistently funny sci-fi comedy that doesn't let its high concept tangle up a bevy of one-liners. The script penned by Jared Stern Seth Rogen and Evan Goldberg assumes you've seen a few movies before entering the theater (mainly any sci-fi movie made in the 1980s). "Summer movie logic" is the foundation for The Watch's ridiculous plot which finds four adult nincompoops teaming up to form a Neighborhood Watch trying to solve the murder of a local Costco employee and eventually pursuing a killer extraterrestrial. Instead of making sense of it all The Watch wisely focuses on its four leads: Ben Stiller Vince Vaughn Jonah Hill and The IT Crowd's Richard Ayoade — a quartet whose bro banter goes a long way in spicing up the dust-covered material. There's nothing revelatory to be found in The Watch but the cast's knack for improv a poetry of the profane makes the adventure worth…viewing.
Director Akiva Schaffer (Hot Rod) establishes his two-dimensional characters quickly and bluntly smashing together broad personality types like a Hadron Collider of cinematic comedy. Stiller's Evan is a micromanaging do-gooder who can't find time for his wife; Hill's Franklin is a mildly disturbed weapons enthusiast yearning to join the police; Ayoade is the quaint weirdo who joins the Watch to fill the void left by his divorce; Vince Vaughn is Vince Vaughn: a loud crass gent looking for a bit of male bonding. The ragtag team assembles to fight crime but they spend most of their time drinking beers in a minivan — an affair they dub "stakeouts." A perfect opportunity for banter.
For a movie about enforcing the law and alien invasions there's a surprising lack of action in The Watch. Long stretches of the film see the central players yapping back and forth about everything: Russian nesting dolls peeing in cans or the similar viscosities of alien goo and human excrement. Charisma goes a long way and Vaughn does much of the heavy lifting making up for lost time out of the spotlight (he's been virtually nonexistent since 2005's Wedding Crashers). The man spits out jokes like no other — the rest of the cast barely keeps up. Ayoade balances out Vaughn's bombardment with a tempered timed delivery that's uniquely British and rarely found on the American big screen. Even when nothing's happening in The Watch it's rarely boring.
The Watch is at its best when it goes a step further mixing the group in with outsiders and throwing them off their rhythm. Billy Crudup cuts loose as a creepy neighbor and its delightfully weird while the always-impressive Rosemarie DeWitt as Evan's wife Abby brings unexpected warmth to the couple's relationship. Sadly The Watch mishandles its greatest asset: the aliens. The film never finds a pitch perfect blend of comedy and science fiction (Ghostbusters or Galaxy Quest this is not); a few scenes where the two come together hint at the best possible scenario but more often than not The Watch avoids its sci-fi roots. A moment in which the guys haul a dead alien back to their man cave plays like an E.T.-inspired version of The Hangover credits. It's lewd and ridiculous but the rest of the film struggles to maintain that energy.
Stiller Vaughn Hill and Ayoade have all proved themselves able funnymen capable of taking weak and tired material up a notch which they're forced to do in every moment of The Watch. Schaffer can handle his talent but his direction isn't adding anything to the mix. By the third slow-motion-set-to-gangster-rap scene The Lonely Island member's obsession with non-cool-coolness is officially just an attempt at being cool (which is not all that funny). The Watch has a greater opportunity than most comedy blockbusters to go absolutely bonkers: it's rated R. But instead of taking its twist and running with it the movie plays it safe. In this case safe is non-stop jokes about the many facets of human reproduction.
Top Story: Paltrow and Martin Apply for Marriage License
Looks like wedding bells may soon ring for Coldplay front man Chris Martin and actress Gwyneth Paltrow, who is expecting the couple's first child this summer, The Associated Press reports. The couple applied for a marriage license in Santa Barbara County, Entertainment Tonight reported Friday, while Mary Rose Bryson, a supervisor in the county recorder division, told AP the couple hadn't requested a public marriage license; however, she did say some licenses are granted confidentially and must be used in Santa Barbara County within 90 days. Paltrow has been dating the British singer for a year and both have been reticent about publicly discussing their relationship.
Affiliates Refused To Show Sharpton's SNL Stint
Several NBC affiliates did not carry last weekend's Saturday Night Live hosted by Democratic presidential candidate Al Sharpton for fear it would fall under the federal "equal time" provision and compel them to offer airtime to the eight other Democrats running for president, AP reports. NBC told AP 23 of its 230 affiliated stations had said they were considering not running SNL. The network did not have a final count Sunday on how many stations did not air it.
Jackson Considering Hobbit
At the European premiere in Berlin of his third and final installment The Lord of the Rings: The Return of the King, director Peter Jackson said he'd like to direct The Hobbit, J.R.R. Tolkien's prequel to the Rings trilogy set 50 years earlier, Reuters reports. If he could resolve the complex rights issues, Jackson told reporters, "I'd be interested in doing it because I think it would give continuity to the overall chapter." While many of the lead Rings characters do not appear in The Hobbit story, the wizard Gandalf, played by Ian McKellen, and Gollum, the cave dweller corrupted by the powerful ring, do and should, Jackson said.
"Godfather of Soul" Honored
The Kennedy Center Honors paid tribute to R&B icon James Brown Sunday, AP reports, where rapper LL Cool J said Brown "broke down mental and social barriers and made it possible for me, a black kid from Queens, to stand in front of presidents and say, 'Say it loud, I'm black and I'm proud.'" The Kennedy Center also honored country singer Loretta Lynn, violinist Itzhak Perlman, comedian Carol Burnett and director Mike Nichols.
Winfrey and Late Show Don't Mix
Oprah Winfrey won't be making an appearance on the Late Show With David Letterman any time soon. AP reports for its Dec. 15 issue, Winfrey told Time magazine, "Both times I was sort of like the butt of his jokes. I felt completely uncomfortable sitting in that chair, and I vowed I would not ever put myself in that position again." Letterman has made several references to Winfrey on his show, especially in his desire to be a guest on her daytime program.
Bachelorette No More
Trista Rehn, star of ABC's reality program The Bachelorette, finally wed her man Ryan Sutter Saturday in a million-dollar wedding near Palm Springs, Calif., Reuters reports. The couple exchanged vows in front of television cameras and 300 guests, including some of the bride's former suitors from The Bachelorette. ABC will air the two-hour wedding special on Dec. 10.
Ozzy Blames Pills for Being Spaced Out
Rock star and MTV icon Ozzy Osbourne says he was "wiped out" on prescription medications during his dazed performances on his MTV reality show and in public. Osbourne told the Los Angeles Times he took as many as 42 pills a day, including Valium, while being treated by a Beverly Hills doctor. "I was wiped out on pills," Osbourne told the newspaper. "I couldn't talk. I couldn't walk. I could barely stand up. I was lumbering about like the Hunchback of Notre Dame. It got to the point where I was scared to close my eyes at night afraid I might not wake up." Osbourne and wife Sharon said they fired the doctor in August after paying $650,000 in medical bills since June 2002, Reuters reports.
Movie Piracy Becomes Law
You'll be officially breaking the law in California if you sneak a camcorder into a movie theater. AP reports the new law, which takes effect Jan. 1, will allow moviegoers to make a citizen's arrest if they see someone in a theater with a recording device. Signs will also be posted at all Los Angeles County theaters notifying patrons of the new law. People convicted under the law could be subject to a maximum one year in jail and a fine of $2,500, AP reports.
Role Call: Sandler Clicks on Next Comedy
Adam Sandler has signed on to do Click, a comedy for Columbia Pictures/Revolution Studios. According to The Hollywood Reporter, the film centers on a workaholic architect who finds a universal remote that allows him to fast-forward and rewind to different parts of his life. Complications arise when the remote starts to make the decisions for him.