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Film Review: Capote

Capote brilliantly tells the tale of how a gifted artist followed his instincts

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In 1959, Dwight Eisenhower was President of the United States, Fidel Castro methodically seized power in Cuba, Buddy Holly, Ritchie Valens and the Big Bopper died in a small plane crash and Alaska and Hawaii became the 49th and 50th states. On a dreary November day of that same year, two petty crooks drove to an obscure Midwestern town named Holcomb Kansas, where one of them brutally murdered a family of four, sending shockwaves reverberating throughout America. Truman Capote was a successful writer living in New York, who at age 23 had achieved notoriety with his first book, called Other Voices, Other Rooms and was enjoying greater critical acclaim for a breezy romantic novel he had recently completed titled Breakfast at Tiffanys. With a yearning to satiate his creative hunger, Capote was looking for a sensational media event to chronicle in a non fiction story; one that would be unlike anything ever written. In mid November of 1959, while reading the New York Times, the 35 year old writer found what he was looking for.

Capote brilliantly tells the tale of how a gifted artist followed his instincts, hopped on a train to travel to America’s heartland and painstakingly assembled the narrative details of this infamous evening, by psychologically dissecting the mind of a killer. The film is a straightforward account of how this seemingly demure man used his disarming wit and superior skills of manipulation to collect the information required to fashion his masterpiece In Cold Blood. And though there is much debate over how he didn’t use notes while compiling his research (a detail the movie explains by demonstrating Capote’s astonishingly accurate sense of recall), it is certain he created a chilling depiction of the Clutter family massacre.

When Truman Capote (Hoffman), arrives in Kansas with his traveling companion Harper Lee (Keener), who later wrote To Kill a Mockingbird, they are treated with indifference by authorities investigating the murder. After Truman and Harper meet and ingratiate themselves with lead investigator Alvin Dewey ’s (Cooper) wife Marie, the pair is introduced into the inner circle of the people examining the sordid details of the crime. When the suspects are finally apprehended, in an amusing sequence, Capote brings the Sheriff ’s wife breakfast to bribe his way into meet accused killer Perry Smith (Collins Jr.)

Spending hours commiserating with him in his cramped jail cell, Capote befriends Smith when both men discover their common experience of suffering childhood abuses. After they are convicted of murder and sentenced to death by hanging, Truman lends his assistance in securing more competent legal counsel for Smith and his partner in crime Richard Hickock (Mark Pellegrino). This positions him as less of a journalist and more as an active participant in case; as the killers, particularly Smith, form an attachment to him. When Dewey reads the newspaper about the writer’s involvement on behalf of the condemned men, he warns Truman if they escape justice, he will come to New York, track him down and kill him.

With the original intent of writing a human interest article for New Yorker Magazine, it becomes clear to Truman that the Clutter family story would provide him with a sensational novel. With half of his manuscript completed, he sends it to William Shawn (Bob Balaban), his New York publisher. Astonished at the quality of the work, he informs Truman he will have a profound influence on the landscape of the literary world. Subsequently, Shawn has Capote perform a reading of excerpts from his unfinished novel, where he receives a standing ovation. After the enormous buzz created by this promotional event, the die is cast and Truman must follow the story to the increasingly bitter end to faithfully record the fate of Smith and Hickcock.

In his quest to complete In Cold Blood, Truman Capote was compelled to invest five emotionally draining years of his life. He became not only a witness but was actively drawn into the aftermath of a violent nightmare, to become the primary confidant of a consummately evil criminal. Yet Capote saw him as a sensitive, scared little boy underneath the nefarious veneer. This took a toll on his mental health and nearly caused him to miss the finale of the story. In a deeply revealing scene, publisher Shawn telephones Harper Lee to prevail upon her friend to visit the murderous duo on their last night on earth. It takes every measure of Truman’s moral courage to meet with Hickock and Smith; and upon their final request, watch their executions.

For his work on Capote, director Bennett Miller has fully realized the classic story of how in his quest to gain the world, a man loses his soul. After writing In Cold Blood, Truman became the most celebrated author in America but never wrote another book. The film gives you an intimate look at how such a gifted novelist invested so much in one project, to the point where he never had the desire to complete another one. Additionally, Miller uses the bleak gray Kansasatmosphere to reinforce the ominous fate that lies ahead for the killers and the endless waiting game Capote faces as he awaits their execution.

Though released in late September, Capote is once again making the rounds at your local movie theatre, as it will certainly garner an Oscar nomination for Philip Seymour Hoffman. Though all the acting is uniformly excellent, Hoffman’s performance as the flamboyant Capote is masterwork of a journeyman performer. He is in nearly every single frame of the film and never loses character for a nanosecond. He is your guide in telling the story within the story. In a somewhat spotty year for meaty plot lines, this is a motion picture that offers a glimpse at one of the most interesting dramas ever told. In Cold Blood became an American version of a Greek Tragedy; one where even the storyteller was unable to remain unscathed.

CAPOTE
Directed by: Bennett Miller
Cast: Phillip Seymour Hoffman, Catherine Keener, Clifton Collins, Chris Cooper

Film Reviews

Film Review: It Chapter Two

The sweet spot between Stephen King fans, horror fans and (believe it or not) comedy fans

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The final installment in the It saga is a clever, scary, probably-too-long allegory about the power of friendship — complete with a 20-foot clown spider. Sure, it’s probably a half-hour longer than it really needs to be — but It Chapter Two is still a fantastic film that hits the sweet spot between Stephen King fans, horror fans and (believe it or not) comedy fans.

It’s a story about friendship, and just like the first film, it’s those relationships that make this story so compelling and keep it woven together in a way that you really care about what’s happening to all the folks Pennywise has been menacing across these two films. Sure, Bill Skarsgård’s absolutely terrifying performance as Pennywise is what puts butts in the seats, but at its heart, this is a story about the power of friendship to win out over pretty much anything. If we work together, we can overcome fear, loneliness, doubt, depression — and yeah — even a supernaturally godlike killer clown. Thankfully, all the blood keeps that message from getting too sappy along the way.

The first It in 2017 was a surprise, monster hit — but for good reason. The Stephen King adaptation by director Andy Muschietti is pretty much a horror masterpiece wrapped in a compelling coming of age story. Think Goonies meets a face-eating monster flick with jump scares galore to keep the blood pumping. But, despite a decently-closed ending to the first chapter, the story was always conceived as a two-part film run, which is pretty much the only way one could hope to possibly wrap up King’s massive tome (the studio actually briefly considered splitting Chapter Two into two films, because there’s just so much material). 

It Chapter Two makes a wise decision to keep the stellar younger cast from the first film involved via ample flashbacks, while still providing space for the adult Losers to live and breathe (and, ahem, die) while bridging the gap between who they were and who they all grew up to be. It also embraces the inherent silliness and insanity of its premise to laugh, now seen through the lens of middle-aged adults as opposed to middle school minds. It’s a hard tone to hit, and it arguably might come off with more laughs than scares, but it’s true to the inherent madness of Pennywise.

The adult cast is also a home run by and large. James McAvoy makes for a capable adult Bill; Jessica Chastain is the embodiment of adult Bev; James Ransome nails grown-up Eddie; and Isaiah Mustafa does a capable job providing the necessary info-dumps as adult Mike. But the real breakout is Saturday Night Live alum Bill Hader as grown-up Richie. There’s scattered buzz that Hader could be worthy of an Oscar nomination for his performance, and he deserves every bit of it. We knew Hader had comedy chops, and he uses them plenty to keep this dark tale from getting too dark, but he really taps into the emotion of what it’d be like to go through something so traumatizing. And the moments that break Richie will almost certainly break you, too.

As for the changes to King’s original novel, sure, they’ll certainly be noticeable for fans. That said, the book itself — especially the ending — is absolutely wild and arguably impossible to adapt in a way that could work on the screen. The ending on-screen largely stays true to King’s themes built into the novel, and for the story that’s been told across these two films, it really does work. Hell, even King himself shows up in a cameo to make a joke about just how hard it can be to get an ending right.

Thankfully, despite a few bumps, It Chapter Two pretty much nails the landing. In a world filled more and more with King adaptations, this two-film run will stand as one of the best.

It Chapter Two is in cinemas now

IT CHAPTER TWO
Directed by: Andy Muschietti
Written by: Gary Dauberman
Cast: James McAvoy, Jessica Chastain, Bill Hader, Isaiah Mustafa, Bill Skarsgård
Distributed by: Warner Bros. Pictures
Run time: 169 minutes

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Film Reviews

Film Review: Hobbs & Shaw

If you’ve already got the volume at 11, you might as well blast it to oblivion

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Hobbs and Shaw

It is hard to believe that 2001’s The Fast & The Furious was just a film about the underground culture of street racing. Fast forward nearly 20 years later and the films have gotten so ridiculous that the only logical next step for the film series is to blast it into space. Our endless appetite for the series has seen us grown accustomed to cars taking planes out of the sky (Fast 6), cars jumping from one building to another (Fast 7), and cars being remotely controlled to act like a pack of mechanical wild dogs (Fast 8). Ridiculous is not a barrier the film series will ever brake for and so it brings us to this, the biggest spin-off the series has seen, Hobbs & Shaw.

When the chemistry between The Rock and Jason Statham proved magic in Fast 8, it only took The Rock butting heads with Vin Diesel to see that logically, the series needed a freshness to it. Who better than Dwayne Johnson and Jason Statham? Well, as Hobbs & Shaw proves, if you’ve already got the volume at 11, you might as well blast it to oblivion as the film cares not for subtlety, pouring gasoline on the fire. The film sees the addition of Idris Elba as supervillain Brixton Lore and the effervescent Vanessa Kirby as Hattie Shaw, the sister of Statham’s character. Both characters fit in superbly well to the colorful, over-the-top personas of the series, but with one difference; they haven’t worn thin yet and are extremely likable. The film benefits greatly from the absence of Vin Diesel’s dopey head and the majority of the dopey Fast “family”, instead taking the Fast and Furious formula and giving it a spit shine, turning it sideways, and sticking it right up… well, you know the drill.

Hobbs (Johnson) and Shaw (Statham) play the unlikeliest (but most charismatic) buddy cop twosome since the days of Eddie Murphy and Nick Nolte. Unexpectedly, this film is really quite hilarious- with the two swapping one-liners and jibes that keeps the film light and funny. The two are tasked with stopping global genocide at the hands of the megalomaniacal terrorist organization known as Etheon. The “face” of Etheon is superhuman Brixton Lore (Elba), an agent left for dead and turned into a weaponized cyborg-esque villain using genetic engineering. He’s the “black Superman” as he says, and he’s got an array of tech and gadgets (including a transforming, autonomous motorbike that would have found itself at home in a Transformers movie) that are part of Etheon’s plan to rid the world of the “weak”.

Vanessa Kirby
Vanessa Kirby is one of the highlights of Hobbs & Shaw

Etheon are after a deadly virus that is in possession of Hattie Shaw and what ensues is the expected cinematic equivalent of flexing your muscles and undoing the top few buttons of your blouse soundtracked to explosions, fast machines, and zippy dialogue. Director David Leitch (Atomic Blonde, Deadpool 2) keeps things by the book, and visually it’s all very on brand with the film series. But it is the chemistry and likability of the stars- namely Kirby, Statham, and Johnson- that keeps Hobbs & Shaw light on its feet, big with its set pieces, and never a chore. Kirby, in particular, has shown that her action chops are as deadly as her acting chops (is it too late to make her Black Widow? Or maybe just put her in all the action films). She never spends the film waiting to be rescued and is often the one quelling the childish, but hilarious quarrelling between Statham and Johnson.

The film trades the tired Fast family for real blood family, and while we still get the whole “family” and “heart” spiel that Vin Diesel loves to harp on about in these films, there is definitely a welcome change to the last few films. In fact, the Fast films haven’t been this fun in a long time. Unlike the last few, Hobbs & Shaw knows that the stakes of the film are global, but never does it take that too seriously and we the audience never feel too burdened by the ridiculousness of it all. There are some great cameos (two unexpected stars pop up that add the right comedic touches, plus Helen Mirren is always brilliant) and while the changing of scenery to Samoa is reminiscent of the previous Fast family vacations to South America et al, there’s something spiritual about this trip.

In the end, you don’t even have to turn your brain off because the film is soaked in charm and lightness that makes for a fun, smart enough romp that keeps its two-plus hour run time feeling like quite a breeze. Hobbs & Shaw is what this film series desperately needed. And while we can’t say the appeal will still be there when we’re inevitably sitting through Hobbs & Shaw 2, 3, 4, 5… we can say that for now, we’ll live this life one spin-off at a time.

HOBBS & SHAW
Directed by: David Leitch
Written by: Chris Morgan, Drew Pearce
Cast: Dwayne Johnson, Jason Statham, Vanessa Kirby, Idris Elba, Helen Mirren
Distributed by: Universal Pictures
Run time: 135 minutes

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