Thursday, 13 September 2012


The way I go about choosing which films to see at the cinema is pretty basic, truth be told. I look at the cast, decide if I can stand two hours of the participants without wanting to ram a screw-driver through my head, and go from there.

This is how I arrived at Lawless, a mobster flick set in early 1930's Virginia and apparently based on a true story. Historians among you will not need me to tell you that this means Prohibition, the banning of the sale of alcohol in the United States during that era. Trying to get around this and thus make a stack of cash are the Bonderant brothers, Forrest (Tom Hardy), Howard (Jason Clarke) and Jack (Shia Laboeuf). They rule the Franklin County moonshine trade with the proverbial iron fist, which is both the most memorable thing about the film and one of it's major weaknesses.

Some of the violent events in this film are so grotesque that even the director (John Hillcoat) seems to have balked at the idea of actually showing them and instead resorts to strong implication. The censors might have had their say on that also, to be fair to Hillcoat. Amid the carnage is Jack's coming of age tale and big brother Forrest's struggles to hold on to both his power and his life, while Howard runs riot and provides more than his fair share of the psychopathy on offer. Of which there is lots. Chipping in is Guy Pearce as Charlie Rakes, a corrupt police officer trying to geg in on the financial gain and keep the Bonderants in his pocket. The normally reliable Pearce whips up the mania and hysteria a little too much, especially in the film's heavily sign-posted denouement. From the very first scene I had a reasonable idea of what might happen at the end, and I wasn't wrong.

It's not that Pearce can't play a baddie. His turn as Fernand Mondego in The Count Of Monte Cristo was among the most memorable villainous stints I can recount. It just doesn't quite work here. He seems to be trying to emit the same suave, charming nature of Mondego before surprising you with a shockingly murderous act or some foul piece of torture. But Rakes lacks the humour of Mondego aswell as the propensity for betrayal which made the latter so compelling. Betrayal trails in the wake of revenge, greed and thirst for power in Lawless.

Quite what the makers of this film were thinking when they wasted the time of Gary Oldman I am still struggling to work out. He appears as Floyd Banner, a feared mob leader who seems to have nothing much to do with anything. He does business with the Bonderants and the film hints at his violent nature and his feared reputation without ever really making him a factor in the stories of the main protagonists. Following Tinker-Tailor and The Dark Knight Rises I am wondering whether somebody just wanted to keep Oldman and Hardy together for a while longer. Maybe they just really, really enjoy each other's company.

Love interest for Forrest and Jack is provided by Maggie Beauford (Jessica Chastain complete with gratuitious nude scene if you like that sort of thing) and Bertha (Mia Wasikowska) respectively. Maggie is a dancer from Chicago who has run away from trouble and found a whole lot more, while Bertha is the daughter of a preacher who is less than excited about Jack's interest in his little girl. Yet these characters are not much more developed than Oldman's and seem to serve only to distract you from what is really going on.

Lawless is a capable but underwhelming mobster story with some heavyweight actors seemingly below their best form. Which is what I get for choosing my cinematic pleasures by looking at cast lists and virtually ignoring synopses.

Tuesday, 21 August 2012

The Dark Knight Rises

It seems that Christopher Nolan has dispensed with any notions of calling The Dark Knight a Batman film, and that is not surprising given the relative lack of screen time afforded to the caped crusader (or is that Superman?) in this the third of what is hopefully only a trilogy.

It's not that I didn't like it, more that three films is enough and usually two too many in most cases. Despite this and other minor quibbles, The Dark Knight Rises (not Batman) is an enjoyable yarn which sees our hero called back into action after several years in recluse at his enormous house. This is because Tom Hardy has turned up playing the part of a quite manic villain called Bane. At this point I couldn't get the term Bane v Wayne out of my head, but I pressed on manfully. Even when I heard Bane's voice I bravely refused to give up on proceedings. Bane wears a mask which helps him breathe, owing to some facial injury which may or may not have been very well explained in the lengthy establishing phase of the film. Yet the voice, coupled with the mask, make him sound and look a bit like a Darth Vader parody, and if there is one thing in film that I don't have a sense of humour about it is Darth Vader. Vader is the greatest baddie in film history bar none. You can keep your Michael Corleone aswell. And the Star Wars theft doesn't end there, as Liam Neeson turns up at one point as a wise old sage offering insight to someone about something. Mercifully, there are no light sabres.

But Bane isn't looking to rule the galaxy far, far away anyway. His mission is two-fold but rather conflicting and therefore possibly self-defeating. On the one hand he wants to stuff it up the rich people of Gotham City for their decadence, overthrowing them in the process, but on the other hand he wants to detonate a nuclear device which would blow the whole city to Buggery and back. If he has a plan for how he is going to escape the carnage himself then I'm not totally clear on what it is. And besides I just can't get past the voice and the mask. Get your own villain Nolan.

Romantic interest is provided by Anne Hathaway as Catwoman (she's actually a burgler called Selina who's sole motivation is to get as far away as possible as quickly as possible with as much cash as possible) and Marion Cotillard as Miranda Tate, a rich bitch who helps keep Bruce Wayne afloat when his company more or less collapses following an unlikely raid on the stock exchange by our man Bane. He is also able to arrange for an entire American football field to crumble piece by piece in a brilliantly over the top scene, the best thing about which is that the man carrying the ball merely carries on running, reaches the endzone and turns around to investigate what all that noise behind him might have been.

And another thing about Bane, while we're on the subject, I couldn't help but think of McBain from The Simpsons every time he came on screen. You know the one, the Arnie parody? If only Bane (and Wayne once he dons the cape, for that matter) was as easy to understand as Arnie I might have got a little more to grips with the finer points of the plot.

Batman (sorry Christopher) regulars Michael Caine and Morgan Freeman provide their usual steady turns also, as we move towards a quite breathtaking and undeniably exciting climax. Can Bane's demented plot be stopped or are the citizens of Gotham (including the poor children) doomed to either explode or die slowly from radiation poisoning? You'll have to go and see it if you want to find out but I can, despite my disparaging tones, heartily recommend that you do so. The Dark Knight is fun, frantic, folly, and what could be better than that for a Tuesday night?