Lawless (2012)

After the subdued and melancholy The Road, director John Hillcoat comes out guns blazing with Lawless – a period crime saga that’s the movie equivalent of a mainstream pop hit, and one containing about as much subtlety.

Talking of music, Lawless is busting with it. The soundtrack thrums with modern ditties rendered period by folksy violins (listen out for a bluegrass cover of Lou Reed’s ‘White Light/White Heat’). That’s no surprise considering Nick Cave provided the score, and  it’s a conceit that mostly works, boosting Hillcoat’s unfussy visuals with ageless vibrancy.

“These were dangerous times,” twangs Shia LaBeouf as the film opens, and he ain’t kidding. Set during Depression-era Virginia, within minutes Lawless has surrendered a pig getting shot in the head, a party in which the guest of honour is a corpse, and streets splotched with bloody red puddles.

LaBeouf (keeping his clothes on, despite recent forays into music video nudity) plays Jack Bondurant, youngest of the Bondurant brothers and feeling the pressure to live up to the family’s reputation as bootlegging bad-asses. That’s made all the harder considering his big bro is Forrest (Tom Hardy), a beast of a man who’s rumoured to be indestructible.

Though the rest of the cast includes stellar up-and-comers Jessica Chastain and Dane DeHaan (Chronicle), Lawless is LaBeouf’s film. That’s both a good and a bad thing because while LaBeouf is excellent, easily banishing any nagging memories of robots in disguise, the likes of Hardy (who manages to be menacing while wearing a cardigan) and Chastain rarely have much to do.

Equally sidelined is Gary Oldman’s gun-wielding gangster Floyd Banner, here little more than a cameo despite the mother of all grand-standing entrances. More time is afforded to Guy Pearce’s wane, mannered Special Agent Charlie Rakes, who’s cracking down on the illegal trafficking of goods in Virginia. Pearce, who was fantastic in Hillcoat’s The Proposition, is riveting as a panto baddie, ushering in the most upsetting scenes of torture since Game of Thrones’ rat burrowing incident.

Considering the pedigree of talent involved, though, not to mention the richness of the world Hillcoat creates, you can’t help but want more. At under two hours long, there’s plenty of room for a fuller exploration of the story’s fascinating bit-players. So while Hillcoat impresses, squeezing Cave’s script (adapted from Matt Bondurant’s novel The Wettest County In The World) for all its juice, his film feels unfinished. Still, if you want a sensitive, restrained period drama, watch The Assassination Of Jesse James. If it’s rootin-tootin’ guns-blazing entertainment you’re after, you could do a lot worse than Lawless. 3/5

Via Grolsch Film Works

Face smoosh!

So a bombastic, smashy, clingfilm-shiny new trailer has been released for Transformers: Dark Of The Moon, the third film in the robotics-scrap-til-we-cry-from-boredom franchise from Michael Bay. And while there really is a lot of robots and scrapping and smashy stuff, the thing that stood out for me was – face smooshing!

Poor Rosie Huntington-Whiteley appears to have signed on to replace Megan Fox in this threequel just so Shia LaBeouf can mould her face like it’s a head-sized hunk of clay. It’s like that bit in one of the Friday The 13th sequels where Jason crushes a gal’s head with his bare hands. Awesome!

Oh, there’s also a cool bit with a building-destroying Transformer, but the face smooshing scandal is far more interesting…

Edited to add this image from Friday The 13th Part 3D, in which poor Rick has his head squeezed so tight by Jason that his eye pops out – IN 3D!

Review of the Year 2007

It’s that time of year again. A time for reflection and rumination – another 365 days are drawing to a close, another year of triumphs, of changes and challenges. And, naturally, there are lists every which way you turn – lists collecting the best and worst of 2007; who committed the most fashion disasters?, who was the breakthrough act?, what was the stand-out film? Now, I’m not one to follow the crowd (unless it’s going somewhere like Chocolate Land), but I thought I might as well pitch in with my two cents. So here’s my (entirely biased) countdown of what I will remember 2007 for…

1. Heroes
Predictably, this hybrid sci-fi/soap tops the list. Drawing on everything from The X-Files, X-Men, Lost and innumerable comic book publications, Heroes’ ensemble super-hero dramatics managed to re-ignite interest in sci-fi TV just when things were looking their bleakest. With its slick production values, killer casting and adrenaline-junkie pacing, Heroes’ riveting first season was a powerhouse exercise in serialised storytelling. Show me anybody in the Earth’s western terrain who hasn’t heard the phrase, “Save the cheerleader, save the world”, and I’ll eat my own hat.* As Bionic Woman struggles toward inevitable cancellation, Heroes is still head of the pack.

B. McLovin
“I am McLovin,” declares dorky high-schooler Fogell as he flourishes a Hawaii driving license replete with that very moniker. A sly allegory for the grow-up-fast society in which we now live, perhaps? Nah, more like one of the many outrageously funny inventions of Superbad, the first teen comedy since American Pie to break genuinely entertaining ground to side-splitting ends.

C. Simon Pegg & Nick Frost
We loved them in Spaced. We loved them in Shaun of the Dead. And this year, we loved them in Hot Fuzz. The Golden Couple-Who-Aren’t-Actually-A-Couple Of Comedy, Pegg and Frost do the buddy cop thing with all the banter, choppy edits and quotable one-liners we’d expect of them. “Is it true that there’s a point on a man’s head where if you shoot it, it will blow up?” asks Frost’s Danny. Dynamite stuff.

4. Blockbusters that began with S
Sunshine, Spider-Man 3, Stardust, Southland Tales. All of varying quality, but all memorable in their own way. Top dog is Danny Boyle’s Sunshine, with its old school thrills and remarkable visuals. Spider-Man 3 got a bad rep for its crowded storyline, but as the final act in a trilogy it worked brilliantly. Comic book fans bemoaned the treatment of villain Venom – personally I thought he/it made an interesting and worthwhile adversary. And then there’s Stardust, a fantasy love story brought to life with sparkling wit and touching sentiment. Oh, and Michelle Pfeiffer rocks.

5. Blade Runner: Final Cut (at last!)
So many cuts and editions and “Special” this and “Director’s” that. It’s with a sigh of relief that Blade Runner has finally been put to bed after 25 years of alterations and differing editions. The Final Cut is dazzling in its visual clarity, while the tweaks in special effects are barely noticeable and only deepen the sense of realism that was always Blade Runner’s calling card. So is Deckard a Replicant? The debate continues, and long may it do so.

F. Shia LaBeouf
Who’da thunk that funny-lookin fella of Holes fame would become venerable Man of the Year 2007? Possessed of an easy, boy-next-door-if-you-live-in-Hollywood charm, LaBeouf proved invaluable to the likes of Transformers and Disturbia. Charismatic without being smarmy, hysterical without even trying, LaBeouf deserves every second of his success. Bring on Indie 4.

7. Studio Ghibli
For shame, yes, this was the year that I finally discovered Ghibli. Spirited Away, Howl’s Moving Castle, Princess Mononoke, how did I ever live without these flicks in my life? Delightfully imaginative and beautifully animated, their nearest rival is Pixar. Only this year’s Tales From Earthsea was a letdown.

H. Travolta in drag
Because I’m lazy, an excerpt from my TF review… “Like its stage-to-screen cousin Dreamgirls, Hairspray tackles serious notions with a twinkly-eyed flamboyance. Moments of sentiment bring gravitas to the whimsical premise, while catchy tunes are grounded by wry, knowing lyrics that cut at the bigger issues. A flashy, breathless audio-visual banquet, Hairspray ensures that any musical hereafter has mighty stilettos to fill.”

9. Cinema-size Simpsons
Eighteen years in the making, countless plot changes and sky high expectations, finally Homer and jaundiced co made it to the big screen. Critics were split right down the middle – some called it nothing more than an extended TV episode, others praised it for being on-par with the classic stories of yester-year. “Spider-Pig, Spider-Pig, doing whatever a Spider-Pig does…”. Brilliant.

J. Tarantino’s Death Proof
Sliced away from its Grindhouse sibling, the Tarantino half of his and Rodriguez’s homage to ‘70s exploitation flicks is the T-Man’s most unusual to date. Typically dialogue-stuffed, it’s a good 45 minutes before the chatter ceases and a shock of truly epic proportions leaps from the screen. The final elaborate car chase will go down in history.

11. Amy Adams as Disney princess
For kiddies, Enchanted was probably their first glimpse of Adams. Aside from her critically-lauded performance in Junebug, the eagle-eyed viewer will have spotted her in everything from mockumentary Drop Dead Gorgeous and Leo DiCaprio vehicle Catch Me If You Can, to guest spotting in a plethora of prime-time shows (Smallville and Charmed to name a few). As Enchanted‘s Princess Giselle, Adams is pitch perfect – she can act, she can sing, she can dance. We really should hate her. Someone give this girl a prize. Go on.

Also: Joss Whedon departed Wonder Woman (sob!) Transformers ruled. ‘Nuff saidAmy Macdonald released her excellent debut albumIndiana Jones 4 was awarded a title: Kingdom of the Crystal SkullRay Winstone and Angelina Jolie received CGI makeovers in better-than-expected BeowulfAND David Lynch ascended to new levels of nuts with Laura Dern and human-sized bunnies in Inland Empire.

*My hat is, of course, invisible.