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.
The Crazies is a loose remake of a 1973 George Romero flick that most people including yours truly have either forgotten or never heard of. In some cases that kind of ignorance might serve as a hindrance but since The Crazies is a zombie flick and all zombie flicks are essentially the same you can rest assured it won’t bother you here.
B-movie A-listers Timothy Olyphant (A Perfect Getaway Hitman) and Radha Mitchell (Surrogates Silent Hill) star as David and Judy Dutton husband-and-wife residents of the quaint hamlet of Ogden Marsh Iowa home to precisely the kind of close-knit farming community long on assault weapon ownership and short on reliable cell phone access that zombies so famously prefer. The rest of the Crazies cast is filled with faces you vaguely recognize from that movie whose name you can’t recall at the moment. Don’t fret — just about all of them end up dead (or undead).
David is the town sheriff and Judy is the town doctor — a combination which conveniently enough makes them better prepared than anyone to face both a sudden outbreak of the undead flu and the violent anarchy that inevitably follows it. Judy also happens to be pregnant (but not so pregnant as to render her unappealing to male audience members thank God) giving the couple an added incentive to endure the onslaught and not blow each other’s brains out.
First come the zombies infected by bioweapon-tainted tap water followed quickly by members of the U.S. government’s jack-booted heavily-armed clean-up crew. Though their wardrobe and tactics differ both groups exhbit a casual disdain for human life and a seemingly insatiable bloodlust — same menace different uniforms. As government stooges and ravenous zombies compete to determine who will destroy Ogden Marsh first heroes David and Judy scramble to escape the town alive.
Director Breck Eisner son of Michael and the man responsible for 2005's Sahara shows surprising restraint with the gore in The Crazies filling the screen with enough blood to justify the film’s R-rating but not enough to test the gag reflex. He has the good sense to parcel out dialogue and backstory in small bits and pieces keeping the tension high and reducing the groan-worthy moments to a relatively respectable level. There’s nothing particularly original in The Crazies mind you but given the choice between a solidly-crafted retread and an innovative pile of rubbish I'll gladly take the former.
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.
Mort Rainey (Johnny Depp) is just the kind of tortured addlepated writer you'd expect to find all alone in a backwoods upstate New York cabin in his ubiquitous ratty moth-eaten robe hair disheveled from the couch pillows on which he's constantly sleeping Jack Daniels bottle lurking conveniently on the coffee table and a blank page in his typewriter. It comes as no surprise that Mort's been unceremoniously dumped by wife Amy (Maria Bello) whom he found cheating on him in a hotel room with unctuous Ted (Timothy Hutton). Not much for Mort to do then besides rattle around his cabin trying (sorta) to stay awake long enough to pound out a few sentences of his latest work of fiction--until that is a black-hatted good ol' Southern boy calling hisself John Shooter (John Turturro) shows up on the doorstep accusing Mort of plagiarizing his short story "Secret Window " several years ago. With only a few days to prove to this Shooter that his story was his own before the guy makes good on his threats to kill everyone Mort knows Mort finds himself with a sticky situation on his hands--literally as pretty soon first his dog then his neighbors start turning up with screwdrivers sticking out of them.
Cast any other actor as Mort and the movie would sink faster than a truckload of bodies in a rock-quarry lake. As it is this is pretty silly horror fluff that barrels headlong into camp territory--but Depp knows it the whole time managing a self-awareness that avoids winking at the audience just enough to pull off some real tongue-in-cheek corkers. As he sinks his teeth into the corny stuff ("This is not my beautiful house. This is not my beautiful wife " he muses a la the Talking Heads while lurking outside his house now inhabited by Ted and Amy) he proves yet again that he can work miracles with the kind of material he's given. It's entirely to his credit that Secret Window ends up a highly entertaining little horror movie. He's not necessarily to blame however for the pathetic lack of chemistry he has with cuckolding wife Amy. Not only does she dwarf him physically but it's also next to impossible to believe they were ever into each other despite mushy flashbacks that show them lovingly decorating the cabin or cavorting in their big house in the 'burbs. Turturro chews the scenery with gusto Hutton is effectively oily and Charles S. Dutton makes a quick but decent turn as Mort's protective lawyer.
Filmmakers seem to have a hard time successfully translating Stephen King's writing to the big screen and have done so with wildly varying results (read: from Shawshank Redemption to Dreamcatcher). But you have to give credit to writer David Koepp (Spider-Man Panic Room) who took on directing duties here for winding up a pretty tight little B-movie that ends up being entertaining in spite of (or perhaps because of) having more ham in it than an Easter dinner. Plus your guess about the "who" in "whodunit" will no doubt be spot-on. Despite all its homespun hokum despite the fact that the entire first third of the movie seems to be a musing on whether Mort can ever get to sleep in peace and despite the fact that the final third of the movie is about as secret as a glass window the blackhearted true-to-King ending still comes as something of a shocker. Kudos goes to the moody understated score by Philip Glass (The Hours) which ramps up the suspense without overwhelming it.