Commentary

September 6, 2012

Fly Over: “Lawless”, “Age of Aztec”

By Macario Mora and by Jayson Burns

“Lawless” a prohibition-era true story about three bootlegging brothers is a visually compelling and superbly acted film derived from Matt Bondurant’s 2008 family novel “The Wettest County in the World.”

Set in the 1930s Virginia backwoods, brothers Forrest, Howard and Jack Bondurant produce a highly intoxicating brand of moonshine, White Lightning, and sell their wares unopposed throughout Virginia and across state lines. That is until federal agent Charley Rakes, a ridiculously good Guy Pearce, makes his way from the tough streets of Chicago and wants a cut from the booming bootlegging business.

Rakes’ brutal ways quickly subdue the county’s local brewers, of course with the exception of the Bondurant brothers led by Forrest (Tom Hardy). Local lore has it that the Bondurants are indestructible, which really peeves Rakes, who is hell-bent on destroying Forrest and his family business.

Throughout the film, Jack (Shia LaBeouf), the youngest brother, provides a narrative which gives context to Hardy’s timely and often hilarious grunts and an amusing secondary story of Jack’s courting of a local preacher’s daughter, Bertha (Mia Wasikowska). Though I’m not a big fan of LaBeouf, he’s perfectly cast as Jack who is obviously the family runt and not really physically or psychologically adept at being a bootlegging gangster, although he certainly tries.

The film, however, wouldn’t be the same without Hardy. My fiancé has already accused me of having a man crush, but he’s truly one of Hollywood’s best actors. His presence radiates from the screen, and he steals every scene he’s in, even though in this film his character is a man of few words – his body language and timely grunts perfectly portray a man who demands respect. Jessica Chastain (Maggie), Gary Oldman (Floyd Banner), and Jason Clarke (Howard Bondurant) all expertly portray their characters – providing the film with more depth.

The Bondurant brothers’ insistence to operate as they always have eventually leads to an all-out and rather gruesome war against Rakes and his half-hearted cohorts – local law enforcement officials. A game of brutal cat and mouse leaves many casualties and ends with an intense shootout – I won’t ruin the ending. Along the way, the viewer comes to believe that Forrest may in fact be indestructible, as he and Howard take their revenge on those who crossed them.

Jack meanwhile, after being brutally introduced to Rakes, vows to become more adept at the family business and begins excelling at slinging moonshine after allying with Floyd Banner. He becomes cocky, which has far reaching affects, and looks ridiculous as he dons gangster clothing and “pimps out” his ride – his character is as silly as LaBeouf acting.

“Lawless” probably won’t receive any Oscar nominations, but sooner or later Hardy will need to be recognized for his incredible acting. Though I rarely watch a film more than once, I would certainly watch “Lawless” again. However, the movie is one of the more violent rated R films I’ve ever watched, so those with queasy stomachs may want to catch “Paranorman” instead. Even I squirmed a few times, and my guest had her hands covering her face for the majority of the movie.

“Lawless” is rated R for strong bloody violence, language, sexuality and nudity.

….and in bookstores:


‘Age of Aztec’

As I’m sure many people have noticed, those influential and unbeatable civilizations we hear about in history class have a habit of, well, collapsing. It’s a little depressing, yes, but it has also left science fiction authors something to ponder: What if they had survived?
Taking his inspiration from ancient Aztec culture, James Lovegrove tries to answer just that.
While his novel, “Age of Aztec,” kept me very much engaged, there were several factors that all but ruined it for me in the end.
Taking place in the year 2012, the Aztec Empire controls the entire planet under the supposedly immortal Moctezuma II. Combining their ancient culture with advanced technology, many of the empire’s subjects seem happy. However, Stuart Reston, a British man whose wife and son were willingly sacrificed to the gods, decides to adopt the title of “Conquistador” and commit terrorist acts in an attempt to kick the empire out of Britain.
Following his trail is Inspector Mal Vaughn, who has made it her one focus to take him down. Soon, both characters find themselves in a conflict far bigger than their game of cat and mouse.
For most of it, I was thoroughly enjoying the world and the story in “Age of Aztec.” Lovegrove did a fine job in making this new society alien but also familiar, like cops playing a pick-up game of tlachtli as they would with basketball. The action was exciting and the imagery was very interesting, with a climactic battle that I think could rival Joss Whedon’s “The Avengers” if it was put to film.
But the ending practically ruined the entire book for me. It felt rushed (not because I read fast), and it resorted to a plot twist that I am, quite frankly, sick of seeing in science fiction. I won’t give it away, of course, but it completely destroyed the effect an earlier reveal had on me.
Knowing that a perfect protagonist is boring (and bad writing), Lovegrove’s heroes have their own strengths and weaknesses that make them work. Reston is highly intelligent and an excellent fighter, but he’s also stubborn and headstrong. Vaughn is loyal and dedicated, but she punishes herself too harshly for her mistakes. The supporting characters work like this as well, though a select few act far too informally considering who they are.
“Age of Aztec” is written in a way that it’s difficult to get lost and, aside from that blasted ending, is well paced.
There were a few quirks I didn’t care for: sometimes there would be a break in the action when there really shouldn’t have been, and some of the dialogue just sounded too expository, but all in all I was able to read at my own speed without missing anything.
Lovegrove also had the foresight to include a little explanation on how to pronounce Aztec words, because I couldn’t pronounce the name “Mictlantecuhtli” if my life depended on it.
This novel was a good read, and I think there are people out there who would definitely enjoy it, but there were some things that I just couldn’t let go of. By the way, what kind of publishing company prints a quote of a critic praising one book on the cover of another? It’s like praising Ridley Scott’s “Blade Runner” on the cover of “Alien.”




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