Friday, August 31, 2012



Lawless is the second John Hillcoat / Nick Cave feature film collaboration --  the first being the horribly overlooked but masterful The Proposition from 2005. I've enjoyed both immensely. Director Hillcoat has an impressive eye for detail (not unlike his countryman Peter Weir's period work -- Picnic at Hanging Rock, Gallipoli) and an implacable taste for violence. Cave, a fellow Aussie who is better known for his work with the rock band Nick Cave and the Bad Seeds, weaves a compelling tale that doesn't rely too heavily on narrative conventions but when it does the film is weakened a bit.
Lawless is the 'true" story of the Bondurant brothers of Franklin County, Virginia, who during Prohibition ran a large bootlegging business in the backwoods that drew the attention of conniving, greedy and sadistic lawmen. Led by the stalwart and seemingly invincible Forrest (Tom Hardy), the brothers try to grow their enterprise while takiing on an effete and heartless enforcer out of Chicago named Rakes (another Aussie Guy Pearce), which leads to a bloody shootout at a covered bridge in the final reel.

The youngest of the Bondruant brood, Jack (Shia LaBeouf, a personal favorite of mine), is itching to get a piece of both the bootlegging action and the local Mennonite preacher's daughter (Mia Wasikowska). Despite warnings from Forrest and eldest brother Howard (Jason Clarke, yet another Aussie), Jack disastrously tumbles into both, assisted by the gimpy young moonshiner Cricket (Dane Dehaan of Chronicle). The cast, which also includes Gary Oldman and Jessica Chastain, is first rate and their dedication to the film and Hillcoat's vision is undeniable and all over the screen.

Lawless is weakened a bit by conventional cinematic devices -- innocence must be sacrificed, carnality damned and evil must come with dyed hair and French cuffs -- but these are not fatal flaws. Bloody, terrifically violent but enjoyable.

Friday, August 24, 2012

Premium Rush


David Koepp has made his name, and no doubt most of his money, as a screenwriter of many successful though unchallenging films -- Panic Room, Carlito's Way, The Paper, Death Becomes Her, Spider-Man. The films he's directed have been mainly good and interesting thrillers -- Secret Window, Stir of Echoes -- but nothing remarkable. So it is not a surprise to me that Premium Rush, written and directed by Koepp, is a generally entertaining but unremarkable movie. It stars the ever-reliable Joseph Gordon-Levitt as a New York bicycle messenger who is carting a mysterious ticket given to him by a young Asian woman with a big secret.The ticket is coveted by a maniacal cop with the cartoonish name of Bobby Monday, played by one of my favorite little know actors, Boardwalk Empire's Michael Shannon (rent Bug tonight!). Gordon-Levitt's Wilee (pronounced like the Coyote) sets off from Columbia University Law School to deliver the ticket to Chinatown while chased by Monday, another cop on a bike, his spunky and fairly clueless girlfriend (Dania Ramirez) and his boastful rival (Wole Parks). The film contains some thrilling footage of bike vs. vehicle maneuvering and a few scary spills but in the main is harmless.

Tuesday, August 21, 2012

Bird 2

Bird 1

Once Upon a Time

I've been watching the first season of this show at the recommendation of  my friend Bertram Rantin (thanks) and find it endlessly fascinating. It's difficult to choose one reason why I'm so enthralled (it has many, many intriguing elements and characters and enormous charm) but I do know for certain its exploration of family and kinship (a golden thread woven through each of the episodes) is some of the smartest (cleverest?) writing I've encountered in quite some time. Even though it's based on Grimm fairy tales and has a young boy as one of the central players, this is a decidedly adult affair.

Monday, August 20, 2012

The Wire Season 4 Episode 8: Corner Boys

The Wire Season 4 Episode 8: Corner Boys   Det. Herc Hauk (Dominick Lombardozzi) is a Baltimore Police Department survivor. Even though he routinely displays unbelievably bad judgment in policing the modern urban crime environment (he actually has the murderous Chris and Snoop stopped with incriminating evidence in tow and, unwittingly, lets them go), he always seems to land on his feet. Herc's not a bad guy or sorry po-leese; his heart, as folks say, is in the right place and when paired with Ellis Carver (Seth Gilliam) the streets of Baltimore are actually a bit safer for the working man. The worst that can be said about him is he's a fairly amoral opportunist. And the Simon and Company appear to be suggesting that feline slickness, when you lack true talent, is what's needed to survive.

Saturday, August 11, 2012

The Bourne Legacy


Before The Bourne Legacy, Tony Gilroy directed Michael Clayton, which I loved, and Duplicity, which I didn't. Legacy, which stars Jeremy Renner and Rachel Weisz, is as humorlessly briliant as the Bourne Ultimatum, a study in cagey, outlandish subterfuge and velocity that was directed by Peter Greengrass. Renner is an amped-up version of the super agent Jason Bourne (played by Matt Damon), and Weisz is a brainy biochemist caught in a mysterious "downsizing" operation that sends both of them scurrying from pillar to post to escape detection and elimination. Gilroy was one of the writers on Ultimatum so this latest entry in the franchise, based on the Robert Ludlum series, weaves in prime elements from Ultimatum into this story and moves the tale sideways more than forward, but still at a ferocious pace. The key high-octane set pieces (including the mandatory vehicular finale, this time through the crowded streets of Manila) are expertly and purposefully disorienting, creating a film that's a wondeful carnival ride of dread and delusion. Warning: The ending, which leaves the door wide open for new adventures, might leave some fans a bit deflated.

Queen & Slim

In the soon to be iconic photograph from Melina Matsoukas's distressing Queen & Slim, stars Daniel Kaluuya and Jodie Turner-Smith...