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.
A kids’ movie without the cheeky jokes for adults is like a big juicy BLT without the B… or the T. Madagascar 3: Europe’s Most Wanted may have a title that sounds like it was made up in a cartoon sequel laboratory but when it comes to serving up laughs just think of the film as a BLT with enough extra bacon to satisfy even the wildest of animals — or even a parent with a gaggle of tots in tow. Yes even with that whole "Afro Circus" nonsense.
It’s not often that we find exhaustively franchised films like the Madagascar set that still work after almost seven years. Despite being spun off into TV shows and Christmas specials in addition to its big screen adventures the series has not only maintained its momentum it has maintained the part we were pleasantly surprised by the first time around: great jokes.
In this third installment of the series – the trilogy-maker if you will – directing duo Eric Darnell and Tom McGrath add Conrad Vernon (director Monsters Vs. Aliens) to the helm as our trusty gang swings back into action. Alex the lion (Ben Stiller) Marty the zebra (Chris Rock) Gloria the hippo (Jada Pinkett Smith) and Melman the giraffe (David Schwimmer) are stuck in Africa after the hullaballoo of Madagascar 2 and they’ll do anything to get back to their beloved New York. Just a hop skip and a jump away in Monte Carlo the penguins are doing their usual greedy schtick but the zoo animals catch up with them just in time to catch the eye of the sinister animal control stickler Captain Dubois (Frances McDormand). And just like that the practically super human captain is chasing them through Monte Carlo and the rest of Europe in hopes of planting Alex’s perfectly coifed lion head on her wall of prized animals.
Luckily for pint-sized viewers Dubois’ terrifying presence is balanced out by her sheer inhuman strength uncanny guiles and Stretch Armstrong flexibility (ah the wonder of cartoons) as well as Alex’s escape plan: the New Yorkers run away with the European circus. While Dubois’ terrifying Doberman-like presence looms over the entire film a sense of levity (which is a word the kiddies might learn from Stiller’s eloquent lion) comes from the plan for salvation in which the circus animals and the zoo animals band together to revamp the circus and catch the eye of a big-time American agent. Sure the pacing throughout the first act is practically nonexistent running like a stampede through the jungle but by the time we're palling around under the big top the film finds its footing.
The visual splendor of the film (and man is there a champion size serving of it) the magnificent danger and suspense is enhanced to great effect by the addition of 3D technology – and not once is there a gratuitous beverage or desperate Crocodile Dundee knife waved in our faces to prove its worth. The caveat is that the soundtrack employs a certain infectious Katy Perry ditty at the height of the 3D spectacular so parents get ready to hear that on repeat until the leaves turn yellow.
But visual delights and adventurous zoo animals aside Madagascar 3’s real strength is in its script. With the addition of Noah Baumbach (Greenberg The Squid and the Whale) to the screenwriting team the script is infused with a heightened level of almost sarcastic gravitas – a welcome addition to the characteristically adult-friendly reference-heavy humor of the other Madagascar films. To bring the script to life Paramount enlisted three more than able actors: Vitaly the Siberian tiger (Bryan Cranston) Gia the Leopard (Jessica Chastain) and Stefano the Italian Sealion (Martin Short). With all three actors draped in European accents it might take viewers a minute to realize that the cantankerous tiger is one and the same as the man who plays an Albuquerque drug lord on Breaking Bad but that makes it that much sweeter to hear him utter slant-curse words like “Bolshevik” with his usual gusto.
Between the laughs the terror of McDormand’s Captain Dubois and the breathtaking virtual European tour the Zoosters’ accidental vacation is one worth taking. Madagascar 3 is by no means an insta-classic but it’s a perfectly suited for your Summer-at-the-movies oasis.
The first and most important thing you should know about Paramount Pictures’ Thor is that it’s not a laughably corny comic book adaptation. Though you might find it hokey to hear a bunch of muscled heroes talk like British royalty while walking around the American Southwest in LARP garb director Kenneth Branagh has condensed vast Marvel mythology to make an accessible straightforward fantasy epic. Like most films of its ilk I’ve got some issues with its internal logic aesthetic and dialogue but the flaws didn’t keep me from having fun with this extra dimensional adventure.
Taking notes from fellow Avenger Iron Man the story begins with an enthralling event that takes place in a remote desert but quickly jumps back in time to tell the prologue which introduces the audience to the shining kingdom of Asgard and its various champions. Thor (Chris Hemsworth) son of Odin is heir to the throne but is an arrogant overeager and ill-tempered rogue whose aggressive antics threaten a shaky truce between his people and the frost giants of Jotunheim one of the universe’s many realms. Odin (played with aristocratic boldness by Anthony Hopkins) enraged by his son’s blatant disregard of his orders to forgo an assault on their enemies after they attempt to reclaim a powerful artifact banishes the boy to a life among the mortals of Earth leaving Asgard defenseless against the treachery of Loki his mischievous “other son” who’s always felt inferior to Thor. Powerless and confused the disgraced Prince finds unlikely allies in a trio of scientists (Natalie Portman Stellan Skarsgard and Kat Dennings) who help him reclaim his former glory and defend our world from total destruction.
Individually the make-up visual effects CGI production design and art direction are all wondrous to behold but when fused together to create larger-than-life set pieces and action sequences the collaborative result is often unharmonious. I’m not knocking the 3D presentation; unlike 2010’s genre counterpart Clash of the Titans the filmmakers had plenty of time to perfect the third dimension and there are only a few moments that make the decision to convert look like it was a bad one. It’s the unavoidable overload of visual trickery that’s to blame for the frost giants’ icy weaponized constructs and other hybrids of the production looking noticeably artificial. Though there’s some imagery to nitpick the same can’t be said of Thor’s thunderous sound design which is amped with enough wattage to power The Avengers’ headquarters for a century.
Chock full of nods to the comics the screenplay is both a strength and weakness for the film. The story is well sequenced giving the audience enough time between action scenes to grasp the characters motivations and the plot but there are tangential narrative threads that disrupt the focus of the film. Chief amongst them is the frost giants’ fore mentioned relic which is given lots of attention in the first act but has little effect on the outcome. In addition I felt that S.H.I.E.L.D. was nearly irrelevant this time around; other than introducing Jeremy Renner’s Hawkeye the secret security faction just gets in the way of the movie’s momentum.
While most of the comedy crashes and burns there are a few laughs to be found in the film. Most come from star Hemsworth’s charismatic portrayal of the God of Thunder. He plays up the stranger-in-a-strange-land aspect of the story with his cavalier but charming attitude and by breaking all rules of diner etiquette in a particularly funny scene with the scientists whose respective roles as love interest (Portman) friendly father figure (Skarsgaard) and POV character (Dennings) are ripped right out of a screenwriters handbook.
Though he handles the humorous moments without a problem Hemsworth struggles with some of the more dramatic scenes in the movie; the result of over-acting and too much time spent on the Australian soap opera Home and Away. Luckily he’s surrounded by a stellar supporting cast that fills the void. Most impressive is Tom Hiddleston who gives a truly humanistic performance as the jealous Loki. His arc steeped in Shakespearean tragedy (like Thor’s) drums up genuine sympathy that one rarely has for a comic book movie villain.
My grievances with the technical aspects of the production aside Branagh has succeeded in further exploring the Marvel Universe with a film that works both as a standalone superhero flick and as the next chapter in the story of The Avengers. Thor is very much a comic book film and doesn’t hide from the reputation that its predecessors have given the sub-genre or the tropes that define it. Balanced pretty evenly between “serious” and “silly ” its scope is large enough to please fans well versed in the source material but its tone is light enough to make it a mainstream hit.
Rings Brings 'Em In at Midnight
"One Ring to rule them all…and in the darkness bind them." Followers of The Lord of the Rings came out in the dark for the 12:01 a.m. screenings of the third and final installment in the Rings trilogy, Return of the King,Associated Press reports. The special midnight screenings took place in 2,100 theaters, twice that of the previous film in the series, The Two Towers, and took in $8 million. Screenings the following day took in another $26.1 million, making it the biggest opening Wednesday as well as the highest one day take for a December release. The film centers on the fellowship of elves, dwarves, and men who rally round hobbit Frodo Baggins (Elijah Wood), as he attempts to destroy a ring with a terrible power. Fellowship of the Ring and The Two Towers took in $861 million and $921 million respectively, leading New Line (the studio behind the trilogy) to hope the film may break the $1 billion mark. "This thing is so gigantic, we really don't know where we're going," said David Tuckerman, New Line's head of domestic distribution. The only film to ever earn $1 billion was Titanic, which took $1.8 billion worldwide.
Affleck To Visit Troops for Holidays
Ben Affleck will entertain the troops sometime around the holidays as part of a United Services Organization (USO) tour of the Persian Gulf, Reuters reports. According to a release issued by the USO, Affleck will shake hands, sign autographs, and screen his latest film, Paycheck, for the men and women overseas. The visit will take place in the days surrounding Christmas and New Year's, though the exact dates will be kept under wraps for security reasons. Affleck's famously on-again off-again relationship with Jennifer Lopez after the last minute cancellation of their September wedding has garnered more interest than his film roles of late, but Paramount hopes to change all that this month with Paycheck. The USO has been recruiting celebrities and organizing performances for the troops since World War II.
Airport Gets Hope-ful
In more sort-of USO related news, the Glendale-Burbank-Pasadena Airport was officially changed to Bob Hope Airport at a christening ceremony Wednesday, Associated Press reports. The comedian had parked his private plane at the airfield since 1985 and embarked from there on many trips to entertain U.S. troops abroad. The comedy legend's widow Dolores spoke to the crowd gathered on the tarmac about bidding her husband farewell as he few off to his USO duties in the South Pacific during World War II. "Our son Zachary, who was 5, kept saying `goodbye, Daddy.' He didn't know whether his father was coming or going," she said. The comedian and star of numerous films (many with fellow USO performer Bing Crosby) passed away this year at age 100.
Aaron Carter Sues for Emancipation
Claiming he "feels betrayed" by the mishandling of his financial affairs, pop star Aaron Carter is seeking to become legally emancipated from his former co-manager mother, Billboard reports, and alleges she took over $100,000 from his bank account without his permission. The 16-year-old is still managed by his father, Bob Carter, who is currently embroiled in a custody battle with Aaron's mother, Jane Carter. Aaron is the younger brother of the Backstreet Boys' Nick Carter.
Kutcher in the House
Ashton Kutcher and his Katalyst partner Jason Goldberg will executive produce The House for 20th Century Fox TV, Variety reports. Ashton, who recently reportedly shut down his successful hidden camera prank show, Punk'd, will star in the new show. The one-hour drama will center on the goings on at a college frat house. J. Mackeye Gruber and Eric Bress, the writer-directors of Kutcher's latest flick, The Butterfly Effect, will write the show.
"Lingerie Bowl" Too Hot for Chrysler
Chrysler has pulled its sponsorship of "Lingerie Bowl 2004" after critics charged the show was sexist, Reuters reports. The pay-per-view halftime game to air during the Super Bowl Feb. was to feature lingerie clad models with the Dodge ram's head logo prominently displayed on their bras. Proceeds from the game were to benefit the American Foundation for AIDS to fund AIDS research, but the charity also dropped out of the game. Horizon Productions, the company behind the game, said that though they are "disappointed" with the loss of Dodge as a sponsor, they will go ahead with the game as planned.
Studdard Tops Charts
American Idol winner Ruben Studdard is victorious once more. His first album, Soulful, came in at number one, selling 417,000 units during its debut the second week of December, Reuters reports. His tally exceeds that of the first series winner Kelly Clarkson, whose debut album, Thankful, sold 297,000 units during its first week of release. However, this year's first runner-up Clay Aiken bested them both by moving 613,000 units of his album, Measure of a Man, during its debut in April. Says Violet Brown, director of urban music Wherehouse Music stores, "If it's an American Idol record, you know that you have a built-in customer base. If it's an American Idol album that gets good radio play and is a good record, then you know you're going to go even beyond." But not every album is a winner. The most unfortunate of the American Idol offspring is Justin Guarini, last year's first runner up, whose self-titled album sold just 136,000 albums since its release in June.
P.Diddy New Raisin
Hot on the heels of such fading Hollywood stars as Melanie Griffith and John Stamos, newly minted actor Sean "P. Diddy" Combs is heading to the Great White Way to star in a revival of the Lorraine Hansbury classic, A Raisin in the Sun, Associated Press reports. Combs will take the role played by Sidney Poitier in both the stage and screen versions of Raisin's Walter Lee Younger, a young African-American man who moves his widowed mother and family into an all-white neighborhood. The play debuts in March of next year.Combs has previously had small roles in such films as