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Film Review: The Company You Keep

A political thriller from yesteryear

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Robert Redford isn’t the greatest of actors, nor the greatest of directors. His acting high point hinges around two classic films he made with Paul Newman at the begging of his career (Butch Cassidy & The Sundance Kid and The Sting). And his directing highpoint was his debut film Ordinary People back in 1980, which earned him an Oscar. What is true about Redford is even at 76 he is still a handsome devil. Your Mum loves him. Your Dad wants to be his drinking buddy. Another truth about Redford; he makes solid films. Not mind-blowing, but solid. The Company You Keep is no exception.

The film opens with archival footage from the 60’s and 70’s. News reporters talk about a radical group of protestors who refer to themselves as ‘The Weather Underground’. True, this group did exist, but the story that unfolds for the next 2 hours is one of fiction. A bank robbery was committed by 4 Weathermen in the 1970’s. It accidentally turned violent, and the banks security guard was shot dead. They were able to escape on that fateful day, going their separate ways, changing their names and identities.

Decades later one of the members (Susan Sarandon) turns herself into the FBI. Ben Shepard (Shia LeBeouf), a young aggressive journalist starts searching around for information on the others who were involved. Of course this pisses off the FBI to no end, especially when his investigating skills outshine theirs. Before long, Ben uncovers Jim Grant (Robert Redford), a former Weatherman member wanted for murder. After living under an assumed identity for thirty years, Jim must now make a break for it, heading on a cross-country search for the one person who can clear his name. Meanwhile the FBI is in hot pursuit and so is The Beouf who’s oh so close to discovering Jim’s secret.

What this film does well is satisfy its target audience: Your Mum and Dad. It’s like a political thriller from yesteryear where much of the story is dialogue driven. No need to think too hard here, the characters will tell you what’s happening incase you missed something. This film is also exempt from your typical act-2 lull in thrillers where nothing really happens. This is thanks to an outstanding support cast who progress the story nicely with rich performances. You can tell the likes of Nick Nolte, Richard Jenkins, Chris Cooper, Sam Elliot and Julie Christie really enjoy sharing the frame with Redford. Unfortunately that’s all we really have here, a strong cast carrying an otherwise below par, run of the mill thriller.

I’m gonna have to do something I don’t feel entirely comfortable with and that’s give The Beouf some credit. In the past he’s always come across as someone way too eager. It’s like he so desperately wants to become a respected actor and an admired artist that he goes to ridiculous lengths. Did anyone else see his nude appearance in that music video for Sigur Ros? Too far Beouf! Tone it down. I guess his performance in this film of a super eager journalist suits his persona, but he keeps it very measured and I must say admirably restrained. He doesn’t try to steal the show. His performance is very believable and will make you forget about the awkward scenes between Redford and his 12 year old daughter, where chemistry is the last thing you’ll find. The most amazing performance of the film however goes to Sarandon, who hasn’t given such depth since her Oscar winning performance in Dead Man Walking. Even though her screen time is minimal, it will leave a lasting impression.

A nostalgic turn for Redford, this feels like his love letter to 60’s idealism. Characters wax lyrical about the fact that if Governments can have their own set of moral rules, then so can the people. They reflect on the idea that a whole generation of pissed off young people were onto something back then. Maybe they weren’t sure what that ‘something’ was, but all sharing in an undeniable feeling that what they were doing was right. The issues raised in this film are just as relevant today as they were in the days of Vietnam, and this will resonate throughout the viewing. It’s unfortunate that this film is probably about half a decade too late. Because for the past 10 years there have been a new generation of pissed off young people similar to those in the 60’s. They also can’t help but look around, shake their heads and say, “what the fuck is going on?”

THE COMPANY YOU KEEP
Directed by: Robert Redford
Written by: Lem Dobbs
Cast: Robert Redford, Shia LeBeouf, Susan Sarandon
Released by: Madmen Entertainment

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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