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Film Review: The Place Beyond the Pines

This is a grand and ambitious drama

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Films are more often than not told in 3 acts. The beginning, middle, and end. The Place Beyond the Pines is so distinctly built around this narrative structure that each individual act feels as if it’s a film unto itself. Perhaps it should also be critiqued that way.

ACT 1

Ryan Gosling plays Luke Glanton, a daredevil motorbike rider in a travelling circus. Passing through town one year after his first visit, Luke runs into Romina (Eva Mendes) with whom last time he shared a one-night stand. Romina now has a son. No guessing who the father is.

Deciding to ditch the circus life and help raise his son, Luke goes about finding work and money. This leads him to Robin (Australia’s Ben Mendelsohn), a local mechanic with a history in robbing banks. Looking to harness Luke’s riding abilities as the quick getaway, Robin convinces Luke into a couple of quick cash grabs. However it’s the third attempt that has the police hot on Luke’s heels.

Fans of Gosling’s Drive will undoubtedly draw parallels here, not only in character, but also in story. This film will suck you in to Luke’s world very quickly. I admit I was captivated after the first scene. This is thanks to the entrance Gosling is given by director Derek Cianfrance (Blue Valentine) and cinematographer Sean Bobbitt. They place us directly behind Luke as he goes about his circus life, giving us a compelling look at his nightly routine. Gosling’s undeniable skill at commanding the frame each time he steps in front of the camera will also draw you in.

This first act sets such a great tempo that when it comes to a shocking and sudden halt, you’ll wonder where the film will turn. FADE OUT. 4 stars.

ACT 2

The second act belongs to Bradley Cooper’s Avery character, one of the local law enforcement officers who were hot on the heels of Luke. Avery also has a little boy less than 1 year old, however that’s where the similarities between Avery and Luke end. Avery believes in justice, truth, honour. His father is a state Supreme Court judge, Avery himself has passed the Bar exam.

6 months into his job as a police officer Avery finds that corruption inside the force maybe a bigger problem than two-bit criminals like Luke. Led by a group of moral-less officers (including the always impressive Ray Liota), Avery’s paranoia levels rise with every over-the- shoulder glance.

Besides the slow start to Avery’s story, the pace picks up again and similar to the first act, the story pulls you in. At the end of this second act our anticipation levels peak in hope for an equally impressive climax to follow. FADE OUT. 3 ½ stars.

ACT 3

A large and disappointing short-cut is taken to reach a conclusion to this film. I’m not going to reveal any of the third act because ultimately this will give the story away. I will say however that the writers of this fable use a storytelling technique that will divide audiences. For those of you that gobble it up hook, line and sinker, I am genuinely happy and pleased for you because this film will rank high on your ‘best films of 2013’ list.

As for the rest of us? Let’s just say I didn’t buy it… Coincidences can be used well in stories, but when they are used in a way that leads characters to both a physical and moral destination, it renders a story to be one of convenience. FADE OUT. 3 stars.

In only his second feature, this is a grand and ambitious drama for director Derek Cianfrance. A talent we should all be keeping our eyes on. Gosling and Cooper give career peak performances (I’ve now decided to take Bradley Cooper seriously). The father-son theme which is by and large the crux of this film is explored in a very original and confronting way. Maybe only comparable in its uniqueness to how P.T. Anderson explored the theme in There Will Be Blood.

THE PLACE BEYOND THE PINES
Directed by: Derek Cianfrance
Written by: Derek Cianfrance, Ben Coccio & Darius Marder
Cast: Ryan Gosling, Bradley Cooper, Eva Mendes
Released by: Focus Features

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 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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