Scaling the Wuthering Iron Heights of Fundamental Boredom

Well, after every hot streak, there’s a cold spell when it comes to movie viewing. After the cinematic nirvana that was the fearsome foursome of To the Wonder, The Place Beyond the Pines, 42 and Mud…I got lost in the boredom of The Reluctant Fundamentalist, Iron Man 3 and Wuthering Heights.

A mirror with no depth.

A mirror with no depth.

For a film that is purportedly about SO MUCH, Mira Nair’s mostly inept The Reluctant Fundamentalist fails to shed any depth of light on current geopolitics, the American Dream, East vs. West or terrorism in our post 9-11 world. There are the seeds of a good film here, but nothing is fleshed out sufficiently. There’s some good acting (Kiefer Sutherland is especially effective as a Bain Capital-style Wall Street exec) and some god-awful acting (Kate Hudson delivers possibly her worst performance, all quirky mannerisms and crocodile tears) – but it all amounts to a big shrug of the shoulders and sleepy eyes. Nair’s career has been in a downward spiral since Monsoon Wedding – her films now shed of all her signature cross-cultural color, class clashing and heart. It’s shocking to watch this film and think that this was made by the same director of Salaam Bombay.

It's nice to see RDJ talk shit to a kid in IRON MAN 3.

It’s nice to see RDJ talk shit to a kid in IRON MAN 3.

Meanwhile, to call Iron Man 3 boring is a bit unfair. I was entertained for most of its runtime as this was probably (and thankfully) the funniest film of the series with some really great dialogue for Robert Downey Jr (and one particularly mean-spirited jab at a kid that had the audience howling) and (SPOILER ALERT!) a hilarious performance from Ben Kingsley. The acting here was all around swell, especially Guy Pearce who has become really good at playing dastardly fellows in his middle-age.

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Bootlegging, Brothers and Chastain in Lawless

The ubiquitous Tom Hardy teams up with the ubiquitous Jessica Chastain for Lawless.

In Prohibition Era Virginia, in those verdant smoky hills of Franklin County, the bootlegging Bondurant Brothers are the kings of a moonshine ring operating peacefully with the local law enforcement and treated as legends by the townsfolk.  Oldest brother Forrest (Tom Hardy) is known for his stoic invincibility (he survived WWI and Spanish influenza), middle brother Howard (Jason Clarke) is a barely functioning drunk who wields quick fists of justice, and youngest sibling Jack (Shia LaBeouf) has been living in their shadows as the kid brother too afraid to take a stand or shoot a gun.  When a big-time gangster from Chicago named Floyd Banner (Gary Oldman) comes down into the area for business, Jack is in awe and sees it as an opportunity to recast himself as a savvy hot-shot.  But with Banner’s big business comes a new ruthless big city lawman, Special Deputy Charles Rakes (Guy Pearce) looking to break-up the Bondurants and their cohorts through any means necessary.

Lawless director John Hillcoat is no stranger to this brand of lawlessness.  His blisteringly violent and philosophical Aussie Western The Proposition was one of my favorite films of 2006.  He then went on to paint a lawless post-apocalyptic vision in his dour adaptation of the dour novel, The Road.  As with The Proposition, Hillcoat re-teams with screenwriter and musician Nick Cave, who adapted the story from Matt Bondurant’s own family history, The Wettest County in the World, while working again on the score with Warren Ellis.  Continue reading

Me Myself and Prometheus

Noomi oh my! Don’t go in there!

The trajectory of the Alien series has followed an eerily parallel path to my own life.

Behold, both Alien and I were born into this world in 1979 with great fanfare…and we scared the bejesus out of all.

We then went through a zany action-packed early childhood, with me waging wars with my GI Joe figures on my parents’ living room floor and James Cameron waging war on-screen with Aliens in 1986.

Then there were the awkward and painful teenage years that both I and the Alien series would rather forget. Cough cough Alien Cubed. Egads! Alien: Resurrection.

Then there was the turn of the century where we both kinda sold-out and lost ourselves. Ugh…Alien vs. Predator! What were we thinking?

But now past the age of 30 we both have grown introspective and retrospective, once again returning to the great mysteries of life and the age-old questions of where did we come from and why does our creator hate us? And thus, Ridley Scott comes full circle in his career and has bequeathed to us this ponderous and wickedly entertaining Prometheus.
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Animal Kingdom

In the opening scene of David Michod’s Australian crime saga, Animal Kingdom, a Melbourne teenager named J (James Frecheville) sits stone-faced and clueless after his mom dies from a drug overdose.  After the police drag the body away, he calls up the only person he knows will come through for him, his previously estranged but all too willing to reconnect grandmother, Janine (Jacki Weaver in a performance that deserves awards’ buzz).  Janine just happens to be the proud and perky lioness ruling a family of small time bank-robbers and drug-dealers.  The eldest, “Pope” (Ben Mendelsohn) is a loose cannon on the cops’ most-wanted list.  J quickly gets caught up in the middle of a mess after the cops take out a family friend resulting in a gangland retaliation, and a detective (Guy Pearce) becomes determined to use the impressionable J against his uncles.

Michod weaves an intermittently compelling tale that is part coming-of-age story and part mob flick spun Down Under.  His framing and mise-en-scene is technically sound but sometimes too self-conscious, and the slow-paced editing makes the film seem longer than it is and hinders some of the drama.  Continue reading