I will confess that I was one of the first in line to dismiss Chris and Paul Weitz’s American Pie out of hand as another prime slice of American juvenilia bound to afflict our nation’s youth with warped senses of humor and unrealistic expectations for adolescence. While I still hold that movie in disregard, my contempt for it has been lessened in light of what the Weitz brothers have bankrolled with the windfall from that movie, the smart, pithy Hugh Grant vehicle About A Boy and now the just as satisfying In Good Company. (Excuse me while I conveniently overlook Down to Earth; I’m sure you had forgotten about it anyway.)
Very much in the vein of About A Boy, In Good Company is a genuinely funny, sometimes heartbreaking trip into the male psyche, while softly satirizing the callous, unforgiving nature of corporate culture. The film is buoyed by a pair of wonderful lead performances from Dennis Quaid and Topher Grace, one whose self-effacing, regular guy schtick made him a movie star, and another whose self-effacing, regular guy schtick just might make him a movie star here pretty soon. It’s the sort of guilt-free, grownup-oriented entertainment that only seems to come around once in a blue moon these days, unfortunate being that the Weitz brothers can only put out films like this every so often.
51 year-old Dan Foreman (Quaid) is an accomplished family man, one who deftly volleys his job as a veteran ad exec for the country’s leading sports rag, Sports America, with his domestic agenda, almost entirely comprised of his wife (Helgenberger) and two teenage daughters, Alex and Jana (Johansson and Zena Grey). His job at the magazine has been steady for 20 years; that is until international mega-conglomerate Globecom absorbs the magazine in a buyout and installs 26 year-old sales hotshot Carter Duryea (Grace) into his old position. Carter, partly out of sympathy and partly recognizing that Dan is a valuable asset, retains him as a “wingman,” while other magazine reliables are axed as a knee-jerk cost-cutting measure. Carter insists to his superior (the always great Clark Gregg in full-on arrogant jackass mode) that he can increase profits without the cuts, but only because he is patently uncomfortable with firing people. We see from the start that Carter is too soft-hearted to be truly successful in such an influential position, a skittish soul who finds his only courageous moments at the bottom of endless cups of Starbucks.
Carter’s high is short-lived, as he smashes up his newly-purchased Porsche and comes home to find that his wife of only five months (Selma Blair; blink and you might miss her) is leaving. With his wife gone and divorce impending, he is forced to rely on a job that doesn’t really suit him for emotional subsistence, and as one might think, he desperately latches onto any attention that he can find. In this case, Dan and his family – including his unexpectedly pregnant wife – are his assuming victims. The impromptu pizza night allows Carter to form a sketchy bond with Dan, his still skeptical “assistant,” as well as a burgeoning interest in Alex, whose transfer from the inexpensive SUNY to the more posh NYU has forced Dan to take out a second mortgage. Carter and Dan coexist in the workplace at an arm’s length, getting along more for the morale of an office full of employees wary of their job status than for their own satisfaction.
Carter, in an atmosphere where machismo and self-confidence rule the day, is plagued by nagging fits of doubt and unfulfillment, which he chooses to combat with copious doses of coffee, Alex, or both. As a veritable novice, he’s been dropped into a very unconventional and uncomfortable position. He’s a natural people-pleaser, dropped headfirst into a spot that requires him to flagrantly ignore the human aspect of those he’s forced to interact with. Having had his ego battered and his sympathetic spirit exposed in a forum where it shouldn’t belong, he believes that he’s found an out in Alex. But quite naturally, his instinctual, last-ditch need for validation brings him face to face with the one conflict he’s managed to successfully evade.
As the emotional center of the film, Carter carries much of the same underlying sadness and desperation that Hugh Grant’s reckless cad Will did in About A Boy. They both hide a massive hole in their souls with heaps of bravado and cursory self-confidence. Dan is the comparative opposite, a guy who retains his humility and sense of purpose even if he recognizes himself to be an inferior salesman. It seems as if Dan is modest in the face of potential embarrassment just for the sake of his family, which is more than we could seem to expect from people like Carter or Will. Paul Weitz, who is credited as the only writer on In Good Company, gradually picks away at Carter’s facade until we get to the core of his existence. It’s the kind of honest self-discovery that we don’t often see in real life, let alone the movies; it’s a brutally funny process because we recognize that many of us have an inner Carter trying to find our inner Dan. Thanks to that easily relatable trait, In Good Company is humorous and resonant rather than just humorous and fleeting.
IN GOOD COMPANY
Directed by: Paul Weitz
Cast: Dennis Quaid, Topher Grace, Scarlett Johansson, Marg Helgenberger
Distributed by: Universal Pictures
Runtime: 110 minutes
Film Review: It Chapter Two
The sweet spot between Stephen King fans, horror fans and (believe it or not) comedy fans
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
Film Review: Hobbs & Shaw
If you’ve already got the volume at 11, you might as well blast it to oblivion
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”.
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