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Entries in guy pearce (5)

Thursday
May022013

Iron Man 3

If you ask me “The Avengers” was one of the most overrated movies of last year. For those of you who haven’t already stopped reading, allow me to explain. Despite some good laughs and some high flying action, I found “The Avengers” to be narratively unfocused. Its tone was inconsistent, its drama fell flat and the character progression that had developed through each hero’s individual movies was brought to a screeching halt. With the exception of perhaps Thor, every character ended the movie exactly the same as they began. While not necessarily a bad thing to shoot for mindless popcorn entertainment, I wanted more, especially given that the majority of the other films had done such a good job getting those characters to that point. “Iron Man 3,” at least in this sense, is a return to form. Tony Stark is still the lovable goof we know him as, but we get to see a different side of him this time, a side that one might not expect from a world renowned superhero. Despite some terrific action, this is substance over style and that is its greatest strength.

The film takes place after the events of “The Avengers” and Stark (Robert Downey Jr.) is even more of a celebrity than he was before. However, those events have caused some emotional trauma within him and he’s finding himself unable to sleep at night, despite his gorgeous girlfriend, Pepper Potts (Gwyneth Paltrow), laying by his side. He instead spends most nights tinkering with his tools and building Iron Man suits. This may prove to be a good thing, however, because a terrorist named the Mandarin (Ben Kingsley) has been blowing up landmarks all across the country and now has his sights set on the President. After one of these explosions puts his old bodyguard and friend Happy Hogan (Jon Favreau) in the hospital, he takes it upon himself to challenge the Mandarin and sets off to stop him before he harms more people.

Robert Downey Jr. did a marvelous thing when he first became Iron Man back in 2008. He took a comic book character that, at least when compared to the heavy hitters like Batman, Superman and Spider-Man, was considered third rate and instantly made him his own. The character he created out of Tony Stark instantly hooked viewers, catapulting Iron Man to A-list status, right alongside those aforementioned heroes. However, the success of the character and the movies themselves didn’t rest entirely on Downey Jr.’s performances, but rather his performances were complemented by clever stories and witty dialogue that fleshed out the character. In “Iron Man 3,” his character comes along even further.

After the events of “The Avengers,” Tony Stark is afraid. He’s suffering from what could only be classified as post-traumatic stress disorder and has become uncertain of his abilities. The pressure has become too much to bear and at multiple points in the movie, he has to battle panic attacks, knowing all too well that he is the only one that can stop the evil Mandarin and his terrorist lackeys from killing again. Watching a superhero try to cope with these conflicting thoughts and emotions—the desire to do what’s right with the fear of failing—is fascinating and though it’s not an entirely unexplored area in superhero movies, doing so with the otherwise cocky Stark gives it more weight. He’s not a character that openly wrestles with his emotions, but rather one that hides them under the veil of confidence. To see them finally surface makes this “Iron Man,” at least in regards to character exploration and progression, the best of them all.

This theme isn’t entirely consistent throughout the movie, however, particularly when he essentially becomes a stealth assassin and singlehandedly infiltrates the Mandarin’s hideout while taking out a number of armed bodyguards on the way (all outside of his suit, too). To follow up scenes of doubt and dread with some of the boldest actions he’s ever pulled off in the calmest demeanor he’s ever had shows an all too obvious conflict between the film’s desire to provide thrills while also telling a meaningful story. Yet one can’t help but be thankful that theme is at least implemented. This is a film that aims higher than popcorn action like “The Avengers,” which didn’t try to hit these emotional levels at all.

What some may find surprising—and the reason this character evaluation succeeds despite some stumbles—is that Tony Stark spends far more time outside of his suit than in. “Iron Man 3” is far more focused on character and plot than bangs and booms. This focus doesn’t only relate to Stark either, but the other characters as well. In particular, one terrific plot twist brings about some huge laughs and makes us reevaluate the antagonist in a way we rarely get to at the movies.

“Iron Man 3” has nearly everything one could want from a superhero movie and wraps up the trilogy in an exciting and satisfying way, and that’s in spite of its flaws. It’s tough to say if this will hold up alongside the plethora of other big name action movies being released in the coming weeks, but it’s a terrific way to start the summer and proves that superhero movies are far from running their course.

Iron Man 3 receives 4/5

Wednesday
Aug292012

Lawless

John Hillcoat is one of cinema’s most underappreciated directors and his movies are maddeningly underseen. His last film from 2009, The Road, was one of the best of that year, but was largely ignored by most everyone, including the supposed film experts who snubbed it of all Oscar nominations. That was a film that dared to face death and despair head on. It wasn’t a pleasant movie, but it was thematically deep and emotionally complex. It was everything movies should be, but it’s grim nature assured it would never overcome that bittersweet underrated status. Hillcoat’s latest, Lawless, based on the book “The Wettest County in the World” by Matt Bondurant, is once again brimming with greatness. It demands to be seen by a wide audience, but if history really does repeat itself, it’s destined for a quiet greatness, one that is known by those who have seen it and ignored by those who haven’t. Lawless has flaws, more so than The Road, and it’s not as contemplative, but it’s nevertheless one of the best of the year.

The film takes place in Franklin, Virginia in 1931 and stars Shia LaBeouf as Jack Bondurant, the younger brother to Forrest and Howard, played by Tom Hardy and Jason Clarke, respectively. It’s the Prohibition era and alcohol has been illegalized. As anyone who has ever cracked open a history book knows, this led to lots of unlawful practices surrounding the distribution (and ingestion) of alcohol. The Bondurant brothers are just one group of many who decided to profit off of  the law, but it has become a problem in their little town and a hot shot deputy from Chicago, Charlie Rakes, played by Guy Pearce, is brought in to fix it. In the midst of all this, Jack begins to fall in love with a pretty young girl named Bertha, played by Mia Wasikowska. She comes from a more traditional, conservative family and is expected to act and dress a certain way, but she begins to reciprocate Jack’s feeling, which leads her astray and puts her in danger. By the end, tragedies will befall the characters and blood will be spilled.

This story, based on a true one about the author’s own family, is as gripping as any to come out this year. Movies about Prohibition are no rarity, the most popular being 1987’s horribly overrated Brian De Palma film, The Untouchables, but whereas that movie featured a wooden central performance from Kevin Costner and inconsequential shootouts with unnamed baddies, Lawless is rich in characterization and every event matters, causing a ripple effect to its amazing and inevitable conclusion. The brotherly bond is there and the romances are never played as hokey. These feel like real people living through a tough time in history, when the simple sale of alcohol threatened violence. The three brothers are far from upstanding citizens, but there’s a humanity to them and you understand their actions, even when you disagree with them. You may not approve of what they’re doing at a certain point in time, but you’ll never condemn them. Everything they do has a reason and the way they’re portrayed in the film—as flawed, but ultimately good people—is excellent.

These characters are three dimensional, there’s no doubt about that, and the dialogue they recite leads to some of the best and most intense dialogue driven scenes since Quentin Tarantino’s Inglourious Basterds, but Lawless isn’t all talk. In fact, it’s quite violent, brutally and uncomfortably so at times, but that makes the movie all the better. It doesn’t glorify it in any way and it exists for a purpose, to both give the characters some motivational weight and to give the film a gritty, raw and realistic feel. Lawless never feels exploitative in these scenes and knows when to leave things up to the imagination, like an early rape that is only implied, effectively eliminating that feeling of hopelessness many rape scenes elicit while still providing the anger and understanding such a scene hopes to instill in its audience.

If there’s anything wrong with Lawless, it comes from a lack of screen time for two of cinema’s most underrated actors, Guy Pearce and the as yet unmentioned Gary Oldman. Oldman features prominently in the beginning of the film and his utter disregard for the sanctity of human life makes him a captivating villain, but he’s quickly forgotten in favor of other narrative exploits, serving only as a catalyst for Jack’s eventual bootlegging ways. Pearce on the other hand is there from beginning to end, but his performance is so breathtaking and wholeheartedly deserving of an Oscar nomination that you just want him to be there more. All of the performances are great, in fact, but it’s the writing that allows them to be. Everything comes together beautifully in Lawless. It’s the perfect way to end the summer movie season.

Lawless receives 4.5/5

Friday
Jun082012

Prometheus

Early word on Prometheus was that it was going to be a prequel to Ridley Scott’s classic sci-fi terror, Alien. Later, word came out that it had blossomed into an entirely different story completely separate from the Alien world. Finally, we were told it would exist within the same world of Alien and maybe cross paths, but still have its own mythology that won’t interfere with what Alien established. I hesitate to divulge how integral it is to the Alien movies, but whatever it is, it’s solid. It’s not the scariest movie in the world, nor the most exciting, but it has ideas and explores a question that has plagued mankind since its creation: how did we get here?

The movie begins in Scotland in 2089. Two researchers, Elizabeth (Noomi Rapace) and Charlie (Logan-Marshall Green), have just stumbled upon a cave painting that dates back at least 35,000 years. It predates any similar discovery they’ve ever made, but it shares a common characteristic: it depicts humans pointing towards the stars. In each painting, the stars were shaped in the same manner, exactly like a galaxy that those primitive cultures never should have (or could have) known about, given that it was too far away to be seen with the naked eye. This leads the researchers to believe that there may be life out there and that maybe that life created us. A few years later, after sleeping in stasis aboard the spaceship Prometheus, they, along with 15 other crewmen and women, arrive to explore a planet that they hope will give them meaning to their existence.

If you’re alive today (and if you’re reading this, I have to assume you are), chances are you’ve thought about the meaning of life. You’ve wondered how we got here, what the purpose of our existence is and who, if anybody, created us. Prometheus wonders that too. The screenplay (and therefore, the characters) taps into our natural human curiosity, our intellectual need for answers. It has a natural wonder of how life began and how important (or, just maybe, unimportant) it is. Their search is what keeps you drawn in because their curiosity is our curiosity. Although obviously fictional, what they discover is mind-blowing and only those without a similar intellectual desire for answers will find their revelations uninteresting.

Greater emphasis could have been put into the validity (or lack thereof) of religion in regards to their findings, which would have made a powerful real world statement on an important modern issue, especially given that one of the characters carries her faith with her regardless of the contradictions she discovers along the way, but religious observation is not the movie’s goal. Its ambitions go much higher than that—besides, human existence probably isn’t as simple as many religions make it out to be—but that ambition is its primary problem. Aiming high and hitting the target is a hard thing to do and Prometheus doesn’t quite reach the standards it, and its eagerly awaiting fans, have set for it.

Ridley Scott tries to convey the same sense of terror portrayed in his quintessential 1979 science fiction landmark, perhaps in an effort to make some type of tonal connection between the two, but his ambition requires a broader scope that contradicts Alien’s more focused nature. Alien took place all on one ship where there was nowhere to hide, giving it an unsettling, claustrophobic feeling while Prometheus takes place across multiple locales, both land and ship. The characters travel all the way through space and explore a previously unexplored planet and what appears to be an elongated cave with its own breathable atmosphere. It also introduces far too many characters, 17 in total, most of whom get only a minute or two of dedicated screen time before essentially disappearing. It focuses on a select few people, including the captain (Idris Elba), Meredith (Charlize Theron) and the ship’s android, David (Michael Fassbender), as it should, but it only brings forth the question, why even have the other characters?

Regardless of its sci-fi content, Prometheus is a human story. Its grandeur may not match its ambition like Stanley Kubrick’s 1968 masterpiece, 2001: A Space Odyssey, but the fact that it has ambition at all is worthy of praise. Those looking for another Alien movie will walk away disappointed—in nearly every regard, Prometheus is quite different—but those who have a natural wonder about where we came from and what our purpose is will find Prometheus both profound and awe inspiring.

Prometheus receives 4/5

Friday
Apr132012

Lockout

Movies that aim low are hard to review. Critics criticize films that are loud, overblown and silly, but if that’s its intention, does it become something we should praise? It’s all about perspective when it comes to movies like this week’s Lockout. Some will destroy it for its clichés and unoriginality while others will check their brains at the door and just have fun with it. Although I certainly recognize its problems and all around derivativeness, I’m in the latter group of critics. Lockout is good dumb fun, plain and simple.

The movie is set in 2079 and stars Guy Pearce as Snow, an ex-CIA operative who is finding himself in trouble with the law, accused of conspiracy to commit espionage against the United States. He knows such is not the case, but all evidence points to the contrary. The only thing that can save him is a briefcase that was left with his partner, Mace, played by Tim Plester. Unfortunately, Mace is now locked up in a new maximum security prison floating in space called M.S. One where he is kept in a state of stasis, just like all prisoners imprisoned there. However, all hell is about to break loose. It turns out that the President’s daughter, Emilie Warnock, played by Maggie Grace, is onboard to ensure that no corruption is taking place. When she pulls a prisoner out of stasis to interview him, he grabs a guard’s gun and escapes, freeing all of the other prisoners in the process, including his brother and ringleader, Alex, played by Vincent Regan. Due to the situation, the government makes Snow an offer. Get in there and rescue Emilie and he can go free. Seeing it also as an opportunity to find Mace, locate the briefcase and prove his innocence, he accepts.

The film, as so many have described it, is basically Escape from New York in space. In that movie, the main character was tasked with finding the President in a futuristic prison setting. Here it’s the President’s daughter. The protagonists in both films are strong, skilled in combat and have smart mouths. They’re more interested in cracking quips than cracking skulls. Fans who rejoiced over the stalled plans to remake Escape from New York may let out an exhaustive grown over Lockout because the two are so similar, it may as well come out from behind is poorly veiled “original concept” cover and own up to ripping off that beloved cult classic.

But those semantics should be left to the studios to fight out. For moviegoers, all that matters is if it’s any good or not. Luckily, it is. This is exactly what one should expect from a movie at this time of year, about a month before the summer movie season kicks off with The Avengers. It doesn’t do anything to blow you away, but it works as a serviceable time killer until the heavy hitters arrive. It’s a ridiculous movie to be sure—I’m no expert, but I’m pretty sure it broke about a dozen unbreakable laws of science—but that’s part of its charm. It never takes itself too seriously and embraces its silliness.

This leads to some welcome comedy in a film that could have otherwise been a grim, violent tale. Guy Pearce, one of our most underappreciated and talented actors, is wonderful here, striking the perfect balance between machismo and playful shenanigans. He takes a role that could have been capably filled by any moderately talented actor and makes it his own, obviously having fun playing a man who knows he’s unstoppable. His evil counterparts are just as fantastic as they spout off intimidating, yet humorous one-liners while they terrorize the workers on the floating spacecraft. As one might expect, a romance between Snow and Emilie is tacked onto the film, but it’s so lazily thrown in there that it barely exists at all and does little to detract from the fun of what you’re watching.

It’s easy to criticize a movie for being dumb, but it’s far more fulfilling to embrace its absurdity and go with it, especially if the film itself is aware of what it’s doing. I was able to do that with Lockout. Sure, its stupidity sometimes borders on condescending, like through its onscreen textual introductions of every character and location (including some that are introduced multiple times, just in case someone forgot that the giant floating complex in space was the prison), but it would be hypocritical of me to praise the film for its unabashed idiocy while simultaneously criticizing it for the very same thing. Lockout is pure escapist entertainment and there’s nothing wrong with that. Most who watch about it will probably forget about it in another month or so, but in the moment, it’s a fun ride.

Lockout receives 3.5/5

Friday
Aug262011

Don't Be Afraid of the Dark

Horror movies, especially mainstream ones, are in shambles. Thinking back on the last year or two of theatrically released horror movies, I can only recall a couple of standout films that managed to crawl under my skin. Most of the time, horror is either disgraced by a lackluster remake (A Nightmare on Elm Street) or a watered down PG-13 rating (The Haunting in Connecticut). Though still technically a remake (of a made for TV movie, so who cares), this week’s Don’t Be Afraid of the Dark puts forth some honest to goodness effort. Unfortunately, that effort is akin to a basketball team who plays their hardest, but still loses. It’s a commendable attempt, but when all is said and done, it’s still a failure.

Bailee Madison plays Sally, a young girl who is sent to live with her father, Alex, played by Guy Pearce, in Rhode Island. She’s none too happy about it and her resentment shows, especially when directed at Alex’s girlfriend, Kim, played by Katie Holmes. She is now stuck in a huge mansion with nothing to do, so, being the adventurous person she is, she snoops around and finds a hidden basement in the house. After hearing voices through a grate down there, she pries it open and unleashes a terror that threatens her safety and that of her family.

Don’t Be Afraid of the Dark is so good in so many different ways, it’s a shame it ended up the way it did. Truth be told, the film has more positive traits than negative, but, as any movie critic will tell you, some aspects are weighted heavier than others. If a horror movie can set the proper mood and cast good actors who give good performances, you’re halfway to success, but no amount of mood can make up for a lack of scares. This is a prime example of that type of film. It’s set in a giant mansion in the middle of nowhere, with backwoods, gardens, gravestones and a lake in the front with fog ominously wafting over it. It does a brilliant job of mixing the innocent with the evil, taking things like teddy bears and rotating night lights and making them unsettling. Its use of lighting and shadows creates a welcome feeling of paranoia; something could be hidden just beneath the darkness.

All of these things contribute to an effective build that is guaranteed to set most viewers on the edge of their seats, hearts racing with anticipation. And then it comes; a scare that simply isn’t scary. The climax of these scenes is precisely where the film falters most. So while the build may work, the problem is those weak climaxes negate the build. Those on the edge of their seats will slide back and those sitting up at attention will slump. The creatures aren’t particularly menacing, especially once you’ve gotten an up close look at them, and you’ll quickly realize that the film has run out of tricks, or trick rather. Because the creatures don’t like light, you’ll get to watch the characters run around with flashlights and cameras to repel them while they attempt to smash any type of light source they can find. After this happens for the first time, you’ll get the gist of what this movie has to offer and the thrills will become lessened as each subsequent scene plays out.

Still, the performances are all very good, especially little Bailee Madison, who is exploring new ground here. She has been in everything from ridiculous comedies (Just Go with It) to religious dramas (Letters to God) and she adapts well to horror. Any performance issue can most likely be traced back to the screenplay, which forces its characters into unrealistic stupidity. As with most horror films, you’re supposed to simply go along with it, but it’s difficult to swallow some of their actions. Little Sally puts herself into so many precarious situations, it could only be seen as a justifiable outcome if she were to perish.

In the interest of full disclosure, I suppose it must be said that the audience at my screening for Don’t Be Afraid of the Dark was awful, and when you watch a movie with a crowd as obnoxiously loud as them, you have to take their ruining of the experience into account. Horror movies rely heavily on sound (and silence) to work, so a rambunctious crowd can effectively suck the tension out of the theater. I like to think I can separate my experience with the movie from the crowd, but, admittedly, it’s a difficult thing to do. On a repeat viewing, perhaps I’d find Don’t Be Afraid of the Dark better, but I only have this one viewing to judge it on. And in that regard, it was a huge disappointment.

Don’t Be Afraid of the Dark receives 2/5