We were back in deposition mode this week, as we finally found out what happened to Maggie in Africa that left her emotionally traumatized and with a horrible haircut. Meanwhile, Jim dealt with the consequences of leaving the campaign bus and Shelly got in the way of the news team perusing a major lead on Genoa.
Nothing But Trouble
Maggie tells lawyer Rebecca Halliday the full story of her trip to Africa. Rebecca seems entirely unsympathetic, going on about $14 million apartments and how she hates the Dutch. She also hopes to use Maggie’s fragile mental state to help AWM’s case, despite Maggie denying being “messed up.” Six months after the Africa incident, Maggie and Jerry went to interview a general who is somehow connected to Genoa. Maggie says that the general never stated that Genoa actually happened, while Jerry claims that Maggie was in no position to say that. Given that Maggie’s not rocking back and forth on the floor in the fetal position, I’d say that Jerry is just trying to cover his own ass for getting everyone into this mess.
S o the big question is: what happened in Africa? Before she and Gary could go to Kampala, they had to get footage of soldiers building an addition onto an orphanage. While visiting the orphanage, Maggie sees a child named Daniel sitting by himself, clutching a book. She starts reading the book to him, and Daniel quickly becomes attached, asking her to read it over and over again. It’s cute, but also sad because you know that something bad is obviously going to happen to this kid.
Maggie and Gary have to stay at the orphanage overnight because they can’t drive on the roads in the dark. In the middle of the night, they are woken up by gunshots and men yelling in Lugisu, which no one understands. (Maggie later figures out that they were yelling “Give us the camera.”) They wake up the children and load them onto a school bus, but Daniel is missing. Maggie finds him under her bed but can’t reach him. Gary helps her unbolt the bed from the floor and forcibly drag Daniel out. Maggie carries Daniel on her back to the bus but turns around when Gary falls, and Daniel is shot in the back. He dies immediately, leaving Maggie distraught and wracked with guilt. Maggie and Gary have to go back to the US right away, and Maggie chops her hair off because Daniel had admired it.
Jim Finally Moves On
Jim’s speech may have convinced Hallie and Stillman to leave the bus with him, but now they have to face the fallout. They no longer get hotel reservations or email updates, and they have to follow the bus in a rental car. Jim asks Romney spokeswoman Taylor for a statement from the candidate that everyone else got by email, but she refuses. They get into an argument which leads to Taylor finally cracking and telling Jim to “Go f**k yourself.” Jim smiles, knowing he caught her in a compromising position, and she asks him what she can do to make him forget what she said. Me thinks 30 minutes with the candidate will do the trick.
But Jim actually gives away his precious interview time to Hallie, whose pig of a boss was giving her a hard time for leaving the bus. When Hallie finds out about this favor, she gets pissed off, but quickly gets over it and makes out with Jim by the hotel pool. She also proudly whispers “I’m the rebound, and I went to Vassar,” which is one of the more absurd things a woman has said on this show, and that’s saying something. Anyway, Mac makes Jim come back to New York after giving up the interview, so his campaign romance is short-lived.
Crisis of Confidence
Back at the newsroom, Jerry and the rest of the crew have to deal with someone who isn’t as obsessed with the news as they are. Plot device Shelly Wexler has an Occupy Wall Street buddy who might have information about Genoa, but won’t bring Jerry to meet him because Will embarrassed her on-air. Sure, Shelly is being difficult and stubborn as hell, but if I had to deal with the News Night team’s overinflated egos, I would probably act the same way. One by one, Neal, Sloan, and Don try to make it up to her, but they let their trademark smugness get in the way. Finally, Will goes to meet Shelly and apologizes to her, saying that he just wanted to bash Occupy Wall Street to make him look more like a moderate. He did this despite the fact that they already found who they were looking for: a guy who wrote a report stating that American troops used chemical weapons on civilians in Pakistan. The report seems to match up with what they already know about Genoa, further convincing Mac and Charlie that the story might be credible. Obviously they are missing a major piece of the puzzle that would prove the story false, but they won't find it until it's too late.
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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]
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.