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Two movies have opened that deal with the past in some way. One takes place in it, and one has a character trying to find it.
Genius is the based on a true story film about the editor Max Perkins (Colin Firth) and his nurturing of the somewhat difficult, to say the least, writer Thomas Wolfe (Jude Law) and the publication of Wolfe’s two books, Look Homeward, Angel and Of Time and the River.
It was certainly a tumultuous relationship as artist/mentor relationships go. Perkins, though responsible for the publishing of such authors as Hemingway and Fitzgerald, was a Puritan at heart. Wolfe was larger than life, obnoxious, rude, an egotist and near sociopath, who lived life as if it were a last meal to be devoured.
One might very well ask, then, how a drama revolving around two such men could be, well, if truth be told and the devil shamed, tedious and almost never gripping? Read the rest of this entry »
Iron Man 3 is one of those movies you don’t really look forward to seeing, but when you do, it actually turns out to be much better than you ever thought it would be. In fact, I think I’ll go out on a limb a little bit here and say that it’s a pretty nifty movie and you won’t be disappointed.
The beginning did fill me with a sense of foreboding. The whole thing begins with a flashback in which all the actors pushed their characters just a bit much (Guy Pearce is particularly weak here; well, actually, I thought he was embarrassingly bad, but perhaps that’s just me) and the humor was just a bit too, too. But once everything jumps to 2013, the film quickly finds its sea legs and we’re off on an adventure that is basically, as is the norm for a Marvel superhero, an existential crisis meets the apocalypse.
Not everything works quite as well as it might. Robert Downey, Jr., back once again as the man in the tuna can, can’t quite sell his anxiety attacks and his voice over is a bit clunky at times (though it does lead to a nice little punch line at the end which means, non-spoiler alert, you must, MUST, stay in your seat until that last little credit has left the screen). But let’s not be petty. Director Shane Black, who co-wrote the screenplay with Drew Pearce, has filled the dialog with tons of wit of the tongue planted firmly in check kind and has come up with a story in which excitement abounds by leaps and.
But perhaps what really makes this entry is an unexpected delight of a first rate supporting cast. In fact, in many ways, that’s all this movie is. Not a series of action scenes filled with CGI special effects in which a director is trying to make up for his penis size, but a series of roundelays in which Robert Downey, Jr.’s acting style has a pax de duex with one character after another. In fact, as a friend of mine pointed out, this was an Iron Man movie without Iron Man since Tony Stark is separated from his body armor for such long periods of time, he actually has to solve the problem as a mere mortal like the rest of us. He’s also more than dependent on his sidekicks than usual, Gwyneth Paltrow as Pepper Pot and Don Cheadle as Rhodes, both of whom made the wise decision of sticking around for the paycheck (they’re both very good, Paltrow surprisingly so).
But to get back to subject, these scene stealers include such cameos as the not seen enough Dale Dickey as the mother of a suspected suicide bomber (I guess she’s the person you go for if you can’t get Melissa Leo); Andrew Lauer as an “I’m your biggest fan” satellite technician; and a series of guards who quickly realize that they aren’t paid enough for this shit. But certainly special note should be made of Ty Simpkins who plays a precocious tyke whose cajones haven’t dropped yet, but he still has enough of them to try to guilt trip Stark. If he’s not brought back for the next installment, his manager should sue.
Still, with no reflection on the aforesaids, no one can quite steal a scene like the sly Sir Ben Kingsley. Like the movie, his first scene as the Mandarin (or Man Daren in the Chinese version) filled me with a sense of foreboding as he employs just about the worst American accent I’ve heard in some time. But suddenly, he…no, sorry, I’m not supposed to say, it’s one of the best twists in the movie, and he gives the best performance in the film. I mean, when he…no, I can’t, I just can’t. You’ll just have to see it.
And what superhero, studio blockbuster would be complete without villains, villains and more villains. In fact, that was about the only thing worth the price of admission for Iron Man II, Mickey Rourke’s powerhouse performance as Ivan Vanko. Here we have Pearce as Aldrich Killian, a scientist who does some sort of rigmarole with the brain and DNA that has the unfortunate side effect of creating human time bombs (my friend said he wished they had dealt more with that and I said they could have dealt with it for the entire movie and I still wouldn’t have had any idea what they were talking about). Pearce gives one of his more relaxed performances in awhile. Oh, and Rebecca Hall is his second in command, but you’ll have to forgive me if I almost forgot her since she doesn’t really have anything to do.
But speaking of the villains, I do have to be honest and say I am a bit squeamish in the movie’s attitude toward terrorism, blaming it on bullying and a hell hath no fury like a woman scorned one night stand. It’s all a bit cartoonish, even for a comic.
But hey, arrive for the CGI and stay for the Kingsley.
Tell me what you think.
There is an absolutely lovely and thrilling moment in Lawless, the new based on a true story film written by Nick Cave and directed by John Hillcoat about a trio of bootlegging brothers deep in the hills of Virginia. When Jack, the youngest of the clan, decides to court the preacher’s daughter by swigging a full mason jar of white lightning and attending Sunday service, he enters a white clapboard building where long-bearded men in dark coats and women in crisp bonnets and starched dresses sing a hymn by shape noting, an almost feral and mesmerizing way of making music.
When the congregation ends the hymn, they proceed to the tradition of washing one another’s feet. When the preacher’s daughter takes Jack’s foot in her hand, it is way too much for him and he runs outside, leaving a shoe behind ala Cinderella, getting sick along the way. This look at a religious service, an offshoot of Quakers and Mennonites, felt like entering new and unexplored territory, the sort of breathtaking scene one goes to movies to experience. And Hillcoat gives it its due. Unfortunately, once it’s over, we’re back to the more than familiar standard tale of bootlegging and moonshining. But it was nice while it lasted.
Lawless is lovely to look at with ravishing and picturesque frames of the hills of Virginia in full, fall foliage and stark ones of lonely bridges in wintertime. The costuming and sets give the story an intense period feel. But in the end, Lawless feels like a movie in search of a story.
The plot is a bit general. Some corrupt lawmen from Chicago come to town to take over. But the Bondruant brothers, being the alpha male Ayn Randians that they are, refuse to buckle. The story sort of lumbers along after this, making its way through a series of episodes that don’t feel like they’re really leading anywhere and with no satisfactory explanation as to why the Chicago gangsters take so long to try to wipe out the Boudrants. And it all ends with one of those shoot outs that made me ask the friend I was with, “Just how close do you actually have to be to someone in this movie before you can hit them?”
Because of this lack of a clear and strong through line, the screenplay tries to hang the story around Jack’s neck and make his coming of age character arc the linchpin that holds it all together, to mix a metaphor or two. But since Jack’s character is so annoying; because he’s such an idiot that you want to hit him up alongside his head; and since his journey isn’t all that intriguing or interesting, this probably wasn’t the best idea. He does have a journey and he does get somewhere. He reaches manhood the moment he can get himself to finally kill someone. Of course, a lot of people had to die first so he could learn this, but as they say, you got to crack a few eggs to make an omelet. But still, the lesson got learned and I guess that’s all that matters.
The cast does the best they can. Jason Clarke, as Howard the middle brother, who has a very expressive face and eyes, and Mia Wasikowska, as the mature for her age preacher’s daughter, probably give the best performances. Tom Hardy mumbles through his lines, an approach that worked for Marlon Brando, but doesn’t quite have the same effect here. Shia LaBeouf plays Jack and whether you think he’s any good or not will probably depend on how much you like his awkward, semi-nerdy, insecure becoming a child-man schtick. For my money, I think he acquits himself quite admirably, and it’s not really his fault that his character isn’t that interesting. But a special note must be made of Guy Pearce who plays Charlie Rakes, the Chicago germaphobe and sociopath with a messianic complex. A preposterous performance in a preposterous role, it almost has to be seen to be believed. One can’t tell if he’s terrible or he’s playing it exactly the way it was written, or both.