Lawless – Film Review

Lawless is the story of a gang of bootleggers in prohibition-era Virginia whose booming business in bootleg moonshine is threatened by the arrival of a new deputy in town. I honestly wish there were a little more to the plot than that but sadly this is what we have to work with. Any subplots are so underdeveloped I don’t want to raise your expectations around them.

“Based on a True Story” is normally a signal that a real life event has been taken and distorted beyond recognition in order to turn it into thrilling cinematic fare. It would seem that this step was skipped as Nick Cave wrote the screenplay for Lawless as while the film may well be accurate it turns a story of drink, corruption, gangs, romance, and violence into a painfully dull two-hour slog.

Shia LaBeouf takes the lead as Jack Bondurant, the young enterprising member of the bootlegging gang and our narrator. LaBeouf is at his least irritating in this role but still isn’t particularly convincing as anything but the affable fool. Tom Hardy is good as ever as his brother Forrest Bondurant and provides a few laughs with his performance as a big strong man who gets flustered around women. Sadly Hardy is given little to do beyond grunt and wander round in a large cardigan from H&M. Saying that compared to the way Jessica Chastain is treated Hardy should be grateful for the character development he gets.

As Maggie Beauford, employee to the Bondurants and love interest to Hardy Chastain arrives without explanation, is given a token nugget of back story, and then after getting her kit off is relegated to little more than set dressing. Gary Oldman is treated just as badly as charasmatic mob boss Floyd Banner we barely see and who is quickly dropped from the film once he has served his purpose. Mia Wasikowska suffers similarly, providing Shia with an uninteresting and inconsequential love interest but having no real story or personality of her own.

Guy Pearce is given a bit more of a role as the evil deputy Rakes but is for some reason playing him as a panto villain. I half expected him to arrive in every scene preceded by a crack and a puff of smoke hiding his face behind a cheap cloak as the audience boo and hiss. And the hair! Pearce has had his hair combed into such a severe and unattractive parting he can’t be anything but the bad guy.

Even with a pantomime villain I struggled to get behind the gang as while they were pitched as loveable rogues the gang were quite happy to remove a man’s testicles in the name of revenge when the time came. Everything about this film is on one level; there is no depth or meaning to be found. The brothers are bootleggers who experience some trouble and little else happens. All secondary characters are seen only when they directly affect the brothers which would be fine but for the fact that the brothers are unsympathetic and at worst boring. I would have been happy to sacrifice a few scenes of LaBeouf pratting about or Hardy’s non-relationship with Chastain in favour of getting to spend more time with Gary Oldman.

With an anticlimactic climax and a strangely wholesome epilogue Lawless lumbers off the screen with as little fanfare as it arrived. In the film as a whole there is no one to root for and a plot so basic it is impossible to become fully engrossed in. I found myself completed bored throughout and frustrated at the wasted acting talent on display. Too many interested threads are left unexplored and characters underdeveloped. Lawless is not a film we will be talking about in ten years time.

Lawless is in UK cinemas on 7th September 2012

Tinker Tailor Soldier Spy – DVD Review

Film
It’s the Cold War and there’s a mole in the circus (the upper echelon of MI6). It is up to Gary Oldman’s Smiley to sniff out the mole and look miserable doing so.

The most understated film about spies you will ever see. Tinker, Tailor, Soldier, Spy doesn’t focus on dramatic chase scenes or explosions; this is a film about men mistrusting other men as they sit around in smoke-filled offices sharing suspicious glances. This is a British film of incredibly high calibre; from the acting of Oldman, Firth, Cumberbatch, Hurt, Strong, Hardy, Jones and friends to the fantastically textured production design. Tinker oozes class from its every pore.

The plot may not be the easiest to follow, and the final reveal of the mole comes with little satisfaction, but there is no doubt that this is a special film including a career defining performance from Gary Oldman. Why not spend a few pennies and class up your dangerously teetering stack of DVDs? If you need more convincing read the full review from last September.

Extras
For a change I’m not going to rant about the lack of extras on a DVD, everyone let out a sigh of relief. This DVD comes with a commentary from Gary Oldman and director Tomas Alfredson, some deleted scenes and a thirty minute interview with John le Carré, author of the original novel (as if you didn’t know). It’s not exactly a treasure trove of extras but as this is a film mostly made up of people talking in rooms (love it) there’s not much for a behind the scenes documentary to reveal.

Summary
Slow burning spy thriller of the finest British quality well worth owning on DVD.

Tinker, Tailor, Soldier, Spy has been out on DVD and Blu-ray for ages, I’m just incredibly lazy.

Tinker Tailor Soldier Spy DVD provided by BBCShop.com

A Few Obligatory Thoughts on the 2012 Oscar Nominations

In case you haven’t been lucky enough to have me mumble at you about the 2012 Oscar nominations in person, I thought I’d share with you some of my gut reactions to this year’s list of films of actor types that may win a fancy gold statue. For the full list of nominees have a look on IMDb, it’ll save me a lot of copying, pasting, and messing around with italics.

Extremely Lame & Poorly Reviewed
Somewhere amongst the nine nominees for Best Motion Picture of the Year is Extremely Loud & Incredibly Close, the family drama about a young boy searching for the lock to match a key left to him by his father, a victim of 9/11. What makes this film stand out, beyond its terrifying poster, is that it is the worst reviewed film to get nominated for this award for the past 10 years. At the time of writing this potential Oscar winner has just 47% positive reviews over at Rotten Tomatoes with a pretty damning consensus; “Extremely Loud & Incredibly Close has a story worth telling, but it deserves better than the treacly and pretentious treatment director Stephen Daldry gives it.”

Albert Who?
Noticing that a film called Albert Nobbs had gathered three nominations I decided to look into it. Turns out that Albert Nobbs is a woman in 19th century Ireland pretending to be a man in order to survive, and is played by Glenn Close. Curious to see what Glenn Close would look like as a man I bravely Googled on.

Thanks Glenn, I didn’t need to sleep tonight anyway.

Gary!
With Tinker Tailor Soldier Spy sadly missing out on a Best Picture nod it’s great to see Gary Oldman getting his first ever Best Actor nomination, and not for his role in Kung Fu Panda 2. In Tinker Oldman ably held together a weighty bit of British cinema and showed hipsters that some people actually wear oversized glasses for medical reasons. What a guy.

Best Performance by an Actress in a Leading Role in a Mediocre Biopic
With Meryl Streep and Michelle Williams both getting nominated for Best Actress, it seems that it really doesn’t matter how lukewarm the reaction is to your film so long as you give a scarily accurate portrayal of an icon. In a way it’s reassuring to know that no matter how mediocre the film you’re in, there’s still a chance to act your way above the rest of the film.

Plummer!
It’s exciting enough that the little seen film Beginners might get some free press thanks to Christopher Plummer’s nomination, but the fact that Captain Von Trapp has been nominated for Best Supporting Actor twice out of the last three years is almost too much too handle. Excuse the hyperbole, I’m tired.

Woody’s Back
Woody Allen has another hit on his hands as Midnight in Paris garnered four nominations, and three of them are the kind that people actually care about. Shame I have 45 Woody Allen films to get through before I’m allowed to watch this one.

How Could They Leave Out ________?
For every nomination which warms the cockles of your heart there will be dozens of omissions which are completely outrageous and terribly short-sighted of the academy, only in your humble opinion of course. For me there’s not enough love for Drive and Olivia Colman has been robbed, robbed blind I say! I’m sure you have your own opinions, but how can they be as important as mine?

A Few Surprising Screenplays
The fact that fantastic Iranian film A Separation and delightful silent film The Artist are both nominated for Best Original Screenplay, a category normally filled with English scripts filled with dialogue, shows a fun bit of diverse nominating from the academy. It brings to mind the fact that the only time Buffy was nominated for a Golden Globe for writing was for the almost silent episode Hush. For anyone not sure why I’m rambling about Buffy, why not have a look at what the script for The Artist looks like, you can download it here.

The Difference Between Sound Mixing and Sound Editing is…
The same as the difference between Drive and Moneyball, apparently. These two categories, for Sound Mixing/Editing, have always baffled me and no more so than this year where they share a fourfilmnomineecrossover.

Is the Animated Feature Oscar Just for Kids?
I had a theory that Best Animated Feature only goes to the most accessible end of the animated film genre. With a few “proper” animated films on the shortlist, Chico & Rita and A Cat in Paris among them, I look forward to being proven wrong. The absence of Cars 2 from the list gives me hope.

If nothing else, at least we’ll get to see this fella again (I hope):

The Dark Knight Rises – Trailer Dissection

With so many people rediscovering our teaser dissection for The Dark Knight Rises, I thought it only fair to provide a dissection of the full trailer, and give people something slightly more worth their time. It is Christmas after all. And as the only comment on the previous dissection was “This isn’t much of a dissection”, I am going to take this way too far and show every single shot from the trailer regardless of interest or sanity.

If you haven’t seen the trailer yet it is embedded below:

Now onto the dissection… Continue reading

Tinker, Tailor, Soldier, Spy – Review

Tinker, Tailor, Soldier, Spy, in which Smiley (Gary Oldman) is tasked with finding a soviet spy amongst the upper echelon’s of MI6, is pure class.

With a stoic lead performance from Gary Oldman, a performance allowing just two and a half displays of emotion, sets the tone in this slow and steady retelling of John le Carré’s now classic tale. As spy thrillers go this is definitely one of the most sedate. The story unfolds at a relaxed pace, no detail is rushed past and no flashback is over in a flash. With a pace this slow the film risks becoming boring, but the quality performances filling out every scene don’t allow for this to happen.

The subtle direction never wavers and refuses to get distracted by the action appearing on-screen. A scene featuring torture and murder is shot in exactly the same fashion as Gary Oldman returning home and walking through his house. It is such a thoroughly British film, one evoking a certain Izzard routine, it is surprising to find the director is Tomas Alfredson, the Swedish director of Let the Right One In.

Oldman is not alone in providing quality acting, the whole stellar cast shine in this no-frills production. Tom Hardy and Mark Strong are the best I’ve ever seen them, Colin Firth continues to carve out his position as a “proper actor”, John Hurt and Benedict Cumberbatch are joyful to watch as ever and Kathy Burke is a little bit of a revelation. It feels like a genuine treat to see the best of British given the space to strut their stuff.

Where Tinker, Tailor, Soldier, Spy leaves itself open to criticism in with the coherency of the plot. It wasn’t always clear exactly how a particular scene fit into the overall plot, and once the mole was revealed it felt as if any of the suspects could have been in the same position with almost no huge effect on the rest of the film.

Tinker, Tailor, Soldier, Spy is a film of rare quality but is a little too emotionally detached to bring pure joy. Regardless, you are required to see it when released on 16th September 2011.

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