The Company You Keep

April 26, 2013 by  
Filed under Reviews

Starring: Robert Redford, Shia LaBeouf, Julie Christie
Directed by: Robert Redford (“The Conspirator”)
Written by: Lem Dobbs (“Haywire”)

It might flaunt the most impressive cast top to bottom you’re likely to see this year on the big screen (21 Oscar nominations, 4 wins), but the script behind Oscar-winning director Robert Redford’s political thriller “The Company You Keep” can only lead its actors just far enough before they’re let down by the material.

It really is unfortunate since Redford, who earned an Academy Award for directing in 1981 for “Ordinary People,” comes into the project with a lot of the pieces already in place. This should be a more intriguing look into the radical leftist organization known as the Weather Underground in the late 60s and early 70s, but it falters. The revolutionary group, whose members were charged during that time for bombing a number of sites such as the U.S. Capitol and the Pentagon, were hell-bent on overthrowing the U.S. government.

In “Company,” Redford stars as Jim Grant, a New York City lawyer and former activist of the Weathermen, who has been living as a fugitive for the last 30 years after a bank heist he is involved in during his heyday claims the life of a guard. Jim is flushed from his quiet suburban home when one of his former Weather Underground colleagues Sharon Solarz (Susan Sarandon) is finally found and arrested for her involvement in the radical movement. Her arrest triggers a domino effect that leads to Jim’s participation in the crime. Now on the run with the FBI and media (Shia LaBeouf plays a scrappy newspaper reporter who cracks the case) on his trail, Jim hits the road in search of a way to clear his name.

Based on the novel of the same name by Neil Gordon, “Company” is a sort of slowly-paced road-trip movie where tons of characters join the fracas, but none are very important to the overall narrative. It’s great to see the likes of heavy-hitters like Julie Christie, Richard Jenkins, Chris Cooper, Nick Nolte and Stanley Tucci tag in and out like some kind of all-star contest, but the substance behind each of their individual connections to the story is thinly scripted.

The acting makes up slightly for the film’s lack of tension. We’re not looking for car chases and extensive getaway scenes here, but Redford’s inability to draw out more emotional conflict from the script is its greatest letdown. There just aren’t enough big moments the talent can sink their claws into. “Company” is never boring, but it also never shifts out of first gear, which poses a major problem when you have a fugitive on the run and a lot at stake.

Arbitrage

September 14, 2012 by  
Filed under Reviews

Starring: Richard Gere, Susan Sarandon, Brit Marling
Directed by: Nicholas Jarecki (“The Outsider”)
Written by: Nicholas Jarecki (“The Informers”)

For the everyman, it’s fairly easy to hit a nerve when trying to explain exactly what happened on Wall St. in 2008 that led to the U.S. economic downfall. Greedy men making questionable deals with each other for millions without really even lifting a finger would make any hardworking American wonder how these people at the top can sleep at night. It’s the reason it’s so effortless to vilify the lead character in “Arbitrage,” a dramatic thriller that takes a page from a really good episode of Law & Order.

In “Arbitrage,” Richard Gere (“Chicago”) plays Robert Miller, a corrupt hedge-fund investor who is so busy making deals he doesn’t have time to pick out his grandkids’ birthday gifts. He’s also cheating on his wife Ellen (Susan Sarandon), which doesn’t help when trying to find at least one redeeming quality about him. At 60, Robert is selling his company although his daughter Brooke (Brit Marling), who is also the CFO of the firm, questions the real motive behind such an unusual move for her father. The reason is simple: Robert is swindling the system and down $412 million. If he doesn’t sell, he will go belly up. Business and pleasure collide with each other when a tragic event with his mistress forces him to do the unthinkable.

Once “Arbitrage” gets into the thick of things, it’s never boring. Even with scene-chewing characters like Tim Roth’s sharp-minded Det. Michael Bryer, the film is interesting enough to hold one’s attention. But once out of the theater, it is evident there’s nothing truly memorable or even really noteworthy of the film that hasn’t been done before in any number of police procedurals. The production value might be 10 times as large as a TV show like USA’s White Collar, but both are operating on a small-scale state of mind.

Jeff, Who Lives at Home

March 16, 2012 by  
Filed under Cody, Reviews

Starring: Jason Segel, Ed Helms, Susan Sarandon
Directed by: Jay and Mark Duplass (“Cyrus”)
Written by: Jay and Mark Duplass (“Cyrus”)

As basement-dwelling stoner Jeff (Jason Segel) opens the film waxing philosophical, relating life to the film “Signs,” we know exactly what kind of person he is. He believes in fate; that everything happens for a reason; that there are no coincidences. Of course, at first we might think it’s the pot talking. But as the new Duplass brothers’ film “Jeff Who Lives At Home” progresses, we see that Jeff truly does believe in fate and audiences are taken on his journey to find whatever his destiny may be.

After he gets a call from a wrong number from someone looking for “Kevin,” Jeff curiously ventures out to run an errand for his mother Sharon (Susan Sarandon). When he sees someone on the bus named Kevin, he takes it as a sign from above and lets this mysterious name guide him throughout his day. Along the way, Jeff runs into his elusive brother Pat (Ed Helms) who is in the midst of a fight with his wife Linda (Judy Greer) over among other things, frivolous spending. Meanwhile at work, their mother Sharon is dealing with an online secret admirer who is showing a romantic interest in her.

Segel is the heart of the film, which is hardly unimaginable for anyone who has seen his fantastic performance in “Forgetting Sarah Marshall.” Segel creates a character that is strangely vulnerable, but beyond that, a character that moviegoers will really want to see succeed. Helms’ character is the polar opposite of Jeff and a somewhat different turn for an actor who has spent a lot of his recent career doing goofy things in a totally different type of comedy. His chemistry with Segel is clearly evident, especially as a source of subtle wit. The Duplass brothers rely more on throwaway lines, facial expressions or strange situations for their laughs and Segel and Helms prove to be a great team for this brand of humor. Although it’s a smaller role, Greer is having a great last few months with solid dramatic turns in both “The Descendants” and now “Jeff.” Although there is nothing wrong with her performance, the B-story of Sarandon at work is the one storyline that seems a tad misplaced and disruptive to the flow of the film.

With the frequent documentary-style zooming in and out and heavily improvised dialogue, the Duplass brothers don’t stray far away from what they have become known for. It is a unique style that is likely to be polarizing and might come down to personal preference on whether or not it bothers the individual viewer. However, while their style remains unchanged, it is evident that with both “Jeff, Who Lives At Home” and with 2010’s “Cyrus,” the Duplass brothers are maturing as filmmakers. While their debut “The Puffy Chair” is raw and emotionally powerful, their latter two films come off as more polished with bigger named actors and an obviously bigger budget. But even further, there is far more charm to their last two films, especially with this last contribution.

While the film does meander and take a while to develop, the final act of “Jeff, Who Lives At Home” is blindsiding and beautiful as everything culminates in one fantastic sequence. It is a film that may not immediately connect with viewers, but those who stay with it may find themselves surprised as to just how much it grows on them. Perhaps what Jeff is experiencing throughout the film isn’t fate, but rather a random string of coincidences. But Segel brings such sincerity to the character that audiences are inclined to just let Jeff believe whatever he wants if it brings purpose to his life.

Speed Racer

May 14, 2008 by  
Filed under Reviews

Starring: Emile Hirsch, Christina Ricci, John Goodman
Directed by: Andy and Larry Wachowski (“The Matrix”)
Written by: Andy and Larry Wachowski (“The Matrix”)

Apparently, Japanese influence in Hollywood doesn’t always have to come from remakes of the country’s eerie horror films like “Ju-On” or “Ringu.” Now, Japanese anime is the next genre to be translated into American-made films. We get our first mainstream taste of it with “Speed Racer,” based on the Japanese cartoon of the 1960’s.

Directed by Andy and Larry Wachowski of “The Matrix” trilogy fame, “Speed Racer” is a psychedelic romp for little boys under 10 and off-road racers who are counting down the days when the Baja 1000 includes vehicles equipped with tire shredders for those drivers who get a bit to close. Sure, it’s much more fun than watching caution laps in NASCAR , but then what isn’t?

In “Speed Racer,” which is actually the name of our protagonist, Emile Hirsch (who was fantastic in last year’s “Into the Wild”) stars as the titular racecar-driving character. As the next big star on the track, everyone wants a piece of Speed, especially the corporations who want him to drop his family-run racing team (John Goodman and Susan Sarandon play his loving parents; Christina Ricci plays Trixie, Speed’s girlfriend) and sign up with them. The shadiest of the bunch is led by a scheming billionaire named Royalton (Roger Allam), who promises Speed the world if he signs on the dotted line.

When Speed refuses, however, Royalton makes it his personal mission to do anything in his power to keep him from ever crossing the finish line anywhere he decides to race. In steps a mysterious, masked racer known as Racer X (Matthew Fox, who doesn’t even seem to want to be part of the production in certain scenes) ready to team up with Speed and expose Royalton for the professional snake he really is.

Inundated with special effects (except for the humans and a chimpanzee named Chim Chim, everything is), the Wachowski brothers slam on the gas for “Speed Racer” and never let up. It might be a good thing for those of you who walk around with an IV pumping caffeine in your bloodstream 24-7, but for the rest of us the Tokyo drifting on a futuristic racetrack becomes overdone after a while.

Although the family dynamic keep the fluorescent film grounded at times, the script isn’t nearly as sensible as it needs to be to recommend to anyone outside its demographic. Of course, that’s not necessarily what the Wachowski brothers were going for. Its seems they wanted the silliness of the “Pows” and “Whams” of the old-school “Batman” TV series mixed with their own stylistic vision and a video-game feel (Mario Kart is the most obvious). At the end, it’s all one big bowl of colorful, soggy Trix. And who are Trix for boys and girls?