Sunday, September 16, 2012


Ever have one of those days where you just want to be alone and not deal with people? I recently had such a day and opted to retreat to the dark confines of my local AMC movie theater. I had been putting off seeing a movie that I had actually been quiet excited about for some time—Lawless.

The film, which was directed John Hillcoat (The Road, The Proposition) is a blend of blended crime/western drama and is based off the novel The Wettest County in the World, which tells the real-life story of three Bondurant Brothers and their bootlegging business. As IMDb explains: “Set in Depression-era Franklin County, Virginia, a bootlegging gang is threatened by a new deputy and other authorities who want a cut of their profits.”

The subject matter certainly appealed to me, but the solid cast was also a major draw. It’s been a big year for Tom Hardy, who played Bane in The Dark Knight Rises and Tuck in This Means War, and Lawless was his latest outing as he played the rough and tumble Forrest Bondurant; meanwhile, Shia LaBeouf played brother Jack while Jason Clarke tackled Howard. Throw is a supporting cast that included Guy Pearce, Jessica Chastain and Dane DeHaan and Gary Oldman—well, let’s just say it doesn’t get much better than that.

I had high expectations for Lawless, and it put it simply they were not met. The movie just wasn’t put together as well as I thought it would be. The bootlegging story was intriguing, but it was littered with side stories such as Forrest’s romance with Chastain’s Maggie Beauford, and Jack’s with Mia Wasikowska’s Bertha Minnix. Blended in are storylines concerning the bootlegging business, corrupt law enforcement and pressure from the big city players. These storylines weren’t necessarily bad, they were just hard to properly flesh out in the movie’s 116-minute run time. Each trotted along, but none were ever taken to the next level. At times the movie was slow, which is normally a good tactic in building up to something big, but like I said, it never shifted gears to the next level.

As far as the performances, they were the film's strength. I was impressed, as usual, with Hardy, and LaBeouf did a decent job. Clarke was the middle brother and least featured, but he did a good job with his time on screen. With that said, the really impressive performances were the supporting roles, with one exception that I talk about below.

Before I get to that, I’m compelled to give credit to a few of the actors. Pearce was superb as corrupt agent Charlie Rakes, who proved a menacing villain. What’s more, he was barely recognizable in character, which I believe is a testament to an actor’s ability. On the same note, DeHann, who I raved about in my review of Chronicle, was great as Cricket Pate. After seeing Lawless, I’m even more convinced that DeHaan has a very bright future in Hollywood as his talent is unsurpassed. The ladies, Chastain and Wasikowska, also did a satisfactory job, and I found the latter’s alabaster-china-doll look very appealing.

The real disappointment in Lawless’ casting was the underutilization of Oldman. He is an actor of the highest order, but his character was only in the film for a few minutes. Hardy and Oldman worked together in The Dark Knight Rises and Tailor, Tinker, Soldier, Spy, and it was almost as if Oldman took the role as a favor—no real commitment, no real development. Very disappointing.

From what I understand, Lawless was shutdown at one point, so production wasn’t exactly smooth, and for me it showed in the final product. The film isn’t terrible, but it didn’t live up to its potential. It’s worth a Netflix/Redbox rental, but I wouldn’t recommend it for theaters. On a side note, if you’re interested in the true story behind the film, I suggest you check out this article in The Daily Beast from one of Jack Bondurant’s grandchildren.

Buddies Forever Movie Club Rating: 55%

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Monday, September 10, 2012

Expendables 2

I love action movies. I grew up watching Arnold Schwarzenegger, Sylvester Stallone, Bruce Willis, Jean-Calude Van Damme and Chuck Norris with my dad, so imagine my excitement when all of those men teamed up for the Expendables 2. I was a fan of the first Expendables, but I was especially excited for the sequel due to the expanded cast.

As IMDb explains: “Mr. Church reunites the Expendables for what should be an easy paycheck, but when one of their men is murdered on the job, their quest for revenge puts them deep in enemy territory and up against an unexpected threat.”

For those who don’t know, Mr. Church is the character played by the aforementioned Willis, who had a brief cameo in the first film. Likewise, Schwarzenegger, who plays Trench, only appeared for a minute in Expendables. Lucky for everyone, they were back in greatly expanded roles.

Now it’s important to remember that why this is an action film, but you have to take it with a grain of salt as it’s sort of a satire on the entire 1980-2000s genre. Sure, it’s a movie that takes itself seriously and has some merit, but it wouldn’t be the film it is without the over-the-top dialogue, body count, and of course the cast.

Admittedly, if the film starred a bunch of no names, it’d be terrible. The story is cliché (plutonium in the hands of a terrorist), but given the context of the film it’s brilliant and entertaining. With that said, the keystone of the film is the cast. Stallone was back as Barney Ross, while the Jason Statham, Dolph Lundgren, Terry Crews, Randy Couture and Jet Li all reprised their roles. They all did a great job, but weren’t featured as prominently as they were in the first film; in fact, Li’s character, Yin Yang, was only in Expendables 2 for about the first 15 minutes of the film before promptly disappearing. I was also disappointed to see that Mickey Rourke, who was Tool in the first film, did not appear in the sequel.

Instead, more attention was paid to the film’s new additions like the aforementioned Willis and Schwarzenegger. The two weren’t prominent in the film, but they had plenty of screen time and even swapped some memorable lines (i.e. “I’m back” and “Yippie kay yay”) while kicking some major ass in a tiny car.

Another new addition was Liam Hemsworth, the brother of Thor’s Chris Hemsworth, who played Billy the Kid, a young sniper recently recruited by the Expendables. His character was still relatively young and innocent, at least by comparison as his compatriots, and he served as a reminder to the old guard of a life gone by—which helped fuel the film’s plot.

For me, the real draw to the film was bringing Norris and Van Damme into the mix. The latter was offered a role in the first film but turned it down because he thought it had little chance of success. Obviously he was wrong, so Van Damme agreed to play the film’s villain, Vilain (gotta love the names). It’s been a long time since I’ve seen Van Damme in anything respectable, so it was nice to see him here. Stallone has said that he enjoys helping reinvigorate stagnated careers, much like his own was a few years back, and I hope Van Damme's will benefit for his role in Expendables 2.

As far as Norris is concerned, he has to be the fan favorite. The 72-year-old wasn’t in the film too much, and at one point I thought his appearance might just be a cameo, but let’s just say he returns when it counts. Norris even poked fun at the legend he has become. When asked by Stallone’s character whether or not it was true he had been bit by a cobra, Norris character replies, “Yeah, and after five days of agonizing pain, the cobra died.” Norris hadn't been onscreen since 2005's lackluster The Cutter, but he lit it up and left me with a big smile in Expendables 2.

The film isn’t going to win any Academy Awards, but it was a lot of fun. Go in with some snacks and an open mind, and you’ll enjoy yourself. I was a little worried about the movie at times, but it finished strong and brought most everyone together for the climactic firefight. The only thing that could have made the Expendables 2 better was the addition of Steven Segal—but I guess they need something to complete the trilogy (fingers crossed).

Buddies Forever Movie Club Rating: 71%

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