Tag Archives: Richard Jenkins

The Company You Keep (“My Thoughts On Old-Fashioned Movies”)

7 May

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Synopsis: “A former Weather Underground activist goes on the run from a journalist who has discovered his identity.” (Rated R; 1 hour, 41 minutes)

Character development, exciting scenes, intriguing mystery, slow but satisfying pacing…this movie was basically a star-studded old-school drama, in the best of ways.

What makes a movie feel “old-fashioned” these days? Well, first and foremost having long conversations and actual character development doesn’t hurt. If you go back and watch some of the classics from the  60’s and 70’s, you will undoubtedly find some great films that modern day audiences find “too slow” or “boring”. Why? Because we’ve been trained to see so many fast-paced action movies, that even the award movie dramas like Argo are downright fast-paced compared to older flicks. For every slow-paced Amour there are ten faster-moving vehicles like LooperEnd Of Watch and The Hunger Games, and I’m only naming movies that I thought were excellent by the way, no criticism on any of them. And it’s not as if I can say I preferred the old movies that I’m referencing from decades ago. For every fantastic slow-paced one like The French Connection and Jaws, there were movies like Bullitt and The Conversation which are classics but could put you to sleep if you’re not careful. In the 1980’s, an example of a Vietnam movie was the action-packed and fast-paced Oliver Stone film Platoon, in the 1970’s it was made sloooowly with Francis Ford Coppola’s Apocalypse Now. I’m not saying one must be better than the other, it’s just a reality that the pacing was different back then, and you have to usually be in the mood (and wide awake) to watch the older movies, since our brains have become so accustomed to the ADD generation that we live in. (Yes of course there are exceptions to my point, as there were plenty of fast-paced movies back then, and more than a few slower ones now. I am writing about the big-picture of how the medium has changed over the years.)

Thankfully, The Company You Keep has the pacing of an older film, but an endless barrage of cameos of that should keep most people in the ADD generation both entertained and riveted. It plays as a thriller with an unraveling mystery, and both Josh and I really enjoyed it from start to finish.

Keep in mind that this was the second movie in a double-feature at the Landmark that we were enjoying on a lazy Sunday afternoon. The first had been Trance, a fast-paced movie I reviewed recently that somewhat let us down; so we were happily surprised that this “standard” looking thriller was damn solid, and it finished our fun-day together off on a high note.

Who does it turn out wrote the movie? Lem Dobbs adapted the book by Neil Gordon, but what has Dobbs done in the past? One of my favorite underrated sci-fi movies, Dark City, came from his clever mind. Released in 1998, Dark City was a really smart little sci-fi flick that screwed with the world in a really neat way, and was overshadowed a year later by a little movie called The Matrix. I’m not trying to say that it was better than the epic awesomeness that was The Matrix, but it certainly deserved to be seen by far more people; and I recommend seeing it if you haven’t already. It even boasts Kiefer Sutherland in arguably his quirkiest role to date. Dobbs continued to make really good slower-paced dramas with the smart indie The Limey and the good heist drama The Score. In fact the only thing I dislike that I’ve seen by him is his previous film, Steven Soderbergh’s Haywire, which suffered from being slow, with no interesting character development, which led to my simply being bored (in spite of its many decent reviews).

As for the cast, it got to be that there were so many recognizable actors that Josh and I were surprised when a new face was NOT familiar. In the lead role was Robert Redford, who still has the swagger and charisma of a younger man, albeit weathered and wiser. He continues to make a great leading man, and it ALMOST didn’t bother me that at 78 years old he played a man with a young daughter. Almost…that element admittedly still distracted me a bit, because every time I saw them together I felt like he was playing his grandfather, until the movie would remind me that she was his own kid. Along with Redford, the only other lead actor was Shia LaBeouf, trying to combine the Woodward & Bernstein personalities from All The President’s Men into one nerdy-Jewish but also slick-charismatic reporter. (Of course you should recall that Robert Redford himself famously played Bob Woodward in that 1970’s slow-paced, but exciting classic!)

So if Redford and LaBeouf played the only two leading roles, who played all of the numerous supporting roles? Do you have a minute?
Julie Christie played a mysterious older woman from Redford’s past. Sam Elliott was keeping her company in amusing fashion. Susan Sarandon was also from his past, and helped open the movie intriguingly. Nick Nolte and his uniquely gruff voice came on halfway through. Chris Cooper played Redford’s equally weathered brother. Terrence Howard was an FBI agent chasing Redford throughout. Anna Kendrick was the one silly role that may have been too vapid (considering she was FBI as well). Stanley Tucci was LaBeouf’s amusing boss. Richard Jenkins was also someone Redford had history with, but managed to be pretty darn good in such little time. Brendan Gleeson was really interesting as another piece to the puzzle, and even Steven Root made a memorable cameo appearance. There were another few actors I recognized, but that should give you an idea of just how many friends Redford must have in the business, or otherwise how much they loved the script.

He did another solid job as the director, and certainly has nothing to prove in that department considering his debut film Ordinary People won him an Oscar as Best Director. Probably his most popular movie was Quiz Show, the fascinating story about the scandal of Charles Van Doren as the rigged winner of the popular game show Twenty One. Most recently he made a little-seen movie about the trial of some of the people accused of Abraham Lincoln’s assassination, in the solid film The Conspirator. So once again Redford proves here that he can direct good dramas with the best of them.

I got a kick out of the constant incorporation of old photographs of the actors from the 60’s and 70’s. Since these guys have all been around in the public eye since then, you were immediately aware that you were looking at actual pictures of them. I’m not sure why, but it added an element of familiar realism to the otherwise mostly-fictitious story. That plus the fact that people such as Susan Sarandon and Robert Redford are famously outspoken liberals, so having them play people who used to be Vietnam-protesting activists didn’t feel like a stretch; it added subconscious authenticity.

If you’re in the mood for a good little suspenseful drama, have a good time seeing this old-fashioned throwback. Older doesn’t have to mean better or worse, but it’s certainly refreshing when you see it, and works well.

The movie was better than Lions For Lambs, a hit-you-over-the-head liberal drama that Redford directed in 2007 as a direct response to his George W. Bush frustration. It’s not as if that movie was boring, but boy was it full of over-the-top self-righteous liberalism to bang home some obvious points. The Company You Keep was not however as great as Quiz Show, which still holds up as a fantastic movie with some superb performances by Ralph Fiennes and John Turturro.

Movie Rating: B+ (Nothing was particularly new or amazing about it, but it was a piece of well-crafted, solid film-making, from beginning to end)

Boaz Rating: A-

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Jack Reacher

7 Jan

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Synopsis: “A homicide investigator digs deeper into a case involving a trained military sniper who shot five random victims.” (Rated PG-13; 2 hours 10 minutes)

The perfect movie to exemplify how I’m an easy audience. The dialogue was bad. How bad? It’s main quips and big lines were things like:
Bad guy: “WRITE THIS DOWN!”

Tom Cruise: “I don’t need to write things down!!!”

And literally, the dramatic music swells. It was like you were watching a movie that was trying to mimic the dialogue and feel of film noirs from the 40’s, but it just didn’t work.

Oh my, there was a big climactic “figuring it out scene during this movie where I turned to Shlomo and told him that I thought I was watching the hilarious 80’s comedy Clue, because that’s exactly what his deductive speech sounded like. I kept waiting for him to name Professor Plum as the villain.

And Tom Cruise was playing a former military police officer, making me think the entire movie, “man is this a bad sequel to A Few Good Men,” that one had little action but a GREAT script.

Yes, the dialogue was often laughable, there was really no mystery to follow, and the music constantly reminded you that you’re watching a dramatic and exciting movie (there’s that music again while Tom Cruise is saying something hokey, it must be an exciting moment!). BUT…I was entertained! Not only because it was fun to laugh at the silliness of the dialogue, but because the action itself was pretty damn cool. The action scenes (few and far between) were a pretty decent imitation of Bourne movie action, and the car chase was pretty damn good, reminiscent of classic Steve McQueen movie classics, which is appropriate since most people know that Tom Cruise imitates McQueen in doing his own dangerous stunts and stunt driving.

Also, the opening scene of the movie which involves a sniper, is not only done interestingly, but is surprisingly powerful when shown again later, a case of decent film-making in many technical ways, in the midst of a movie with some pretty key laughable elements.

Something to note: one of the main actors was played by the impressive German director Werner Herzog (who made one of my favorite underrated movies, Rescue Dawn), who enjoyed chewing up the scenery; couldn’t he have given a few tips for behind the camera while he was in front of it?

Silly movie, damn entertaining for both good and bad reasons.

The movie was much better than Alex Cross (a terrible thriller from a few months ago where someone was also tracking a killer), but much worse than Kiss Kiss Bang Bang, an amazing comedy/thriller that INTENTIONALLY used film noir dialogue, and it worked!

Quality Rating: C (saved only by the well directed action scenes)

Boaz Rating: B (between laughing at it and enjoying the action scenes, I had a good time)