Saturday, December 1, 2012

Movie Reviews-Lawless, Take the Money and Run, Game of Thrones S2: Making Histories

directed by John Hillcoat
I wanted to like this movie a bit more than I did. It was entertaining but there was just a little missing. I'm not quite sure what. It hit all the right notes, period clothing, taciturn roughnecks with hearts of gold, brutal gangsters and equally brutal lawmen, and of course loyal fallen angel babes that are eager to offer their honor to previously mentioned taciturn roughnecks.

I think I just couldn't buy Shia LaBoeuf in his role. But that was a personal issue I guess. Anyway Lawless is based on the real life adventures of the Bondurant Brothers, Virginia bootleggers during Prohibition. They are based in Franklin County, Virginia, also known as the "wettest county in the world" because literally everyone and their mama is cooking moonshine. Moonshine is the country business. The Bondurants are perhaps first among moonshiners but this isn't really explained how and I guess it's not that important. There are three Bondurants.

The oldest brother is Forrest Bondurant (Tom Hardy, Bane from The Dark Knight Rises) a man of few words, deep thoughts and quick fists who is rumored to be indestructible on account of having survived not only some horrible battles in World War I but also the Spanish Flu of 1919 upon his return. You don't want to get on Forrest's bad side as there are several stories of his fearsome capacity for violence. He'll take you places you don't want to go. But he's a fair dealing man. His word is bond and he's no bully. The middle brother is Howard Bondurant (Jason Clarke), who is even bigger than Forrest and faster with his fists though he's not quite as mentally sharp.
Finally there's kid brother Jack Bondurant (Shia LaBoeuf) Obviously Jack is the center of the story. He's not allowed to go on moonshine runs by himself and his brothers take pains to distance Jack from any violence. There is a flashback of a young Jack being unwilling to kill a pig for dinner. His brothers don't think he's got the grit for deeper involvement in the business. Like Michael in The Wire Jack is the small puppy with big paws that strains against the unfair rules and rough guidance that he gets from his older brothers.

But deeper involvement is of course what's going to happen. The local corrupt district attorney has decided that the free market in booze needs to end and all sales (and a generous commission) need to come through his office. To this end the DA spreads some loot around to get most of the police on his side and brings in a Chicago gangster/corrupt lawman named Charlie Rakes (Guy Pearce) who is deputized to intimidate, arrest, or eliminate anyone who won't join the new syndicate. Rakes has nothing but contempt for the country bumpkins as he sees them and can't wait to start breaking heads. Pearce does an okay job with this but it's almost a cartoonish role. He even has an evil laugh. He does everything but wear a sign saying "I'm the bad guy". He reminded me a lot of Jack Palance in Shane.

Well Forrest isn't intimidated by Rakes or the DA and tells them so to their face. And when police come by their club to attempt to arrest them, Howard lays a brutal two-step stompdown on the police. So that leaves elimination as the remaining option, which is what the sinister Rakes preferred anyway. When Forrest is left for dead after trying to defend the honor of burlesque dancer Maggie (Jessica Chastain) Jack decides that he needs to step up. This is even more so the case as the previously relatively soft Jack had his own run-in with Rakes, one which embarrassed Jack and greatly damaged the Bondurant reputation.
There is a lot of violence in this film. Some of it is rather explicit. There is some (female) nudity. There is also a slightly comedic love story that develops between Jack and the preacher's daughter Bertha Minnix (Mia Wasikowska). Preacher Minnix has no truck with bootleggers and doesn't want Jack sniffing around. Even being caught talking to Bertha can be hazardous. Jack learns the hard way that the business he's involved in has no tolerance for mistakes. And neither do his older brothers. Family or not, business is business. The Bondurants are in a fight and they don't have time to handhold little brother any more. Step up or step off is how it has to be at this time.

This movie was just under 2 hours long but moved pretty quickly. Gary Oldman has a small role as Floyd Banner, an independent gangster and bootlegger with ties to the area.
Tom Hardy carries this film. I was really more interested in his story and the development of his character's relationship with Chastain's character than I was in LaBoeuf's character. Hardy and Chastain get a fair amount of screen time but really they should have gotten more. All in all a fun film but not something that's gonna knock your block off.

Take the Money and Run
directed by Woody Allen
For many people Woody Allen is a love him or hate him sort of director. His style of ironic humor is not for everyone. Sometimes it can leave me cold or go over my head completely. But I am a fan, especially of his older work. I really thought I mentioned this movie before but a search didn't turn anything up. Apologies if I did write on this before. Getting old I guess. As I had some time off this week before the December rush at my job I re-watched this movie, which was the second film Allen ever directed. It is uneven and hesitant in some places but how good were you early in your career compared to where you are now? This movie stands out because of its wild slapstick visual style. It is miles away from the sort of understated urbane ironic NY humor that would come to define much of Allen's work. This is broad stuff definitely aimed at the cheap seats. It's straight out of the borscht belt in terms of timing and riffs. I found it very funny but as mentioned, I am generally well disposed towards slapstick. Even though it's a short film, it probably runs about 15 minutes too long. There are some scenes that don't work all that well and a few ethnic humor riffs against Allen's particular in-group that he could get away with because he's part of that particular in-group.
The film purports to be a serious documentary about the rise and fall, well really more fall and fall of would be dangerous but almost thoroughly inept criminal Virgil Starkwell (Woody Allen). Virgil Starkwell is a bullied child who turns to crime to try to compensate. His parents, hilariously interviewed in Groucho Marx masks to attempt to disguise their identities, admit that Virgil was a bad seed from day one. Even as Virgil's mother attempts to defend him his father says he was a rotten kid. The documentary also interviews Virgil's high school music teacher who says that Virgil was the worst cello player that he ever came across. The teacher claims Virgil had zero idea of how to play the instrument and that he once caught Virgil blowing into it. Bad cello music is heard and a cello is thrown out of the window. Despite this Virgil was determined to play and joined the high school marching band as cellist. This is shown in flashback. The film is full of sight gags like this.

When an adult Virgil meets the woman who will become his wife, Louise (Janet Margolin) he gives a voiceover to the documentary saying that "..After five minutes I knew I was going to marry this girl. And after fifteen minutes I completely gave up the idea of stealing her purse".

From attempts to escape prison to failed bank robbery attempts to blackmail to singing blues songs on the chain gang, this film zooms along from skit to skit. Not everything works as I said but there were enough belly laughs for me to say that this could be worth a look for you. Again, for better or worse this is nothing like his later work.
Cello Scene  Blackmail scene Gonna See Miss Liza

Game of Thrones
Season 2: Making Histories
HBO just released this video which details some insider information about the making of season 2 and also gives a Ygritte (Rose Leslie) voiceover about the history of the wildlings. I could literally listen to her talk all day, every day. Anyway there are no spoilers in the video for future events but other sites' comments are FULL of them, literally infested with slimy lowlifes that want to spoil things for folks. That is why the video has comments disabled for you to watch here, totally unspoiled, if you are so inclined. If you already know future events, kindly keep those to yourself. If you wanted to know why the wildings or Free Folk as they call themselves, have the society which they do, Ygritte explains it succinctly and in her rather extreme (to my ears) accent.
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