Directors: Joel & Ethan Coen
Writers: Joel & Ethan Coen
Stars: Josh Brolin, George Clooney, Alden Ehrenreich, Ralph Fiennes
Release date: February 25th, 2016
Distributor: Universal Pictures
Running time: 106 minutes
Release date: February 25th, 2016
Distributor: Universal Pictures
Running time: 106 minutes
Release date: January 21st, 2016
Distributor: The Weinstein Company
Running time: 167 minutes
Release date: November 14th, 2014
Distributor: Sony Pictures Classics
Running time: 130 minutes
Every so often, Hollywood creates an effort of unconscionable grace and virtue. These achievements, from well-orchestrated winners to surprise hits, are preserved for present and future generations to admire. More often than not, these admirable efforts are composed of memorable scenes, quotes, and performances. Many classics are defined by people you’d least suspect. Turns like Judi Dench in the Bond saga, Heath Ledger as the Joker, or even Chris Tucker in Silver Linings Playbook can elevate anything.
So, how does this apply to 2014 Oscar contender Foxcatcher? Surprisingly, stunt casting solidifies the movie’s flawless execution and award-worthy glow. Suffering from crippling production and distribution issues throughout the past decade, the movie was almost closed off from humanity. Discarded from the public’s view, the movie – despite the stellar cast and intriguing story – struggled to find some attention. However, this year’s film festival circuit delivered a well-deserved boost. It may not appeal to everyone, but this crime-drama is worth the admission cost. A talking point across the world, the story, set in the 1980s, chronicles one of the past century’s most shocking true stories. depicting philanthropist John Eleuthere du Pont’s brutal murder of Olympic wrestling champion David Schultz, the movie depicts the harsh roads taken toward said horrific events. Throughout this docudrama, we follow blue-collar wrestler and lost soul Mark Schultz (Channing Tatum). Stranded in affectionate older brother David(Mark Ruffalo)’s shadow, he is ignored by his family, the Olympic committee, and the public. One day, after a solid training session with his sibling, he receives a call du Pont’s Foxcatcher estate. The du Pont family, known for a long-standing empire and inherent waspishness, boost Mark’s life. John (Steve Carell) tasks him with forging a top-shelf wrestling program.
Throughout the 130-minute run-time, Foxcatcher sticks to true events and never shows mercy. In the opening credits sequence, Director Bennett Miller (Capote, Moneyball) crafts a microscope-level examination of the du Pont family. This sequence, depicting archival footage of the Foxcatcher farm in Pennsylvania, alludes to the dynasty’s desire for ‘Britishness’. Their colossal mansion becomes this drama-thriller’s pristine backdrop. Shown to train horses and raise hounds, this docudrama casts an eerie fog over events. Delivering another unforgettable cinematic thrill-ride, Miller’s style courses through frames like blood cells through Tatum’s muscles. Capote showcases an acclaimed writer’s analysis of a horrific crime, while Moneyball depicts America’s infatuation with one of its most popular sports. Foxcatcher is a visceral and haunting concoction of Miller’s previous features. Fusing said concepts succinctly, it depicts a balletic dance between patriotism, obsession, power, and betrayal. Relating his situation to Mark’s, John yearns for power, victory, and masculinity. Avoiding typical docudrama tropes, Miller establishes himself as a keen-eyed observer – setting up the camera and watching confounding events unfold. The first half, focusing entirely on Mark and John’s eyebrow-raising dynamic, carefully dissects their discomforting mentor/protege relationship. Showcasing wrestling’s role-models and cash-cows, its sport-as-religion agenda hits stupendously hard. Revelling in an unrefined pastime, its wrestling sequences elevate the tension. Throwing themselves – literally and figuratively – across the mat, this resonant sports-drama steadily transitions into a potent psychological-thriller.
“A coach is the father. A coach is a mentor. A coach has great power on athlete’s life.” (John du Pont (Steve Carell), Foxcatcher).
Evolving beyond the central plot-thread, Foxcatcher transitions into a thought-provoking cautionary tale. Shifting to David and John’s professional relationship, the narrative – similarly to Mark – transforms into a touchy and unpredictable beast. Building to a heartbreaking conclusion, this crime-drama thrusts each expression, outburst, and comedic interlude. Breaking into John’s disturbing worldview, Foxcatcher crafts a fascinating antagonist. In one scene, John, snorting cocaine on his way to a fundraising event, forces Mark to practice his speech. Introducing John to the guests, Mark practices his pronunciation of three valuable words: ornithologist, philatelist, and philanthropist. In these select moments, Miller presents the creepy sports enthusiast as a belligerent child wrapped in blinding arrogance. Alluding to John’s damaged childhood, the movie constructs a meticulous and terrifying puzzle worthy of consideration. Whilst acquainted himself with Mark, John asks him to stop calling him “sir” or “Mr. Du Pont” and instead call him “Eagle”, “Golden Eagle”, or simply “John”. Blinded by an absurd sense of entitlement, John’s grand vision of the future and gaping insecurities led to his immense downfall. Atop a pedestal, John’s jingoism and artificiality depict only small shreds of his psyche. However, the movie presents John’s mother, Jean (Vanessa Redgrave), as the major obstacle John never shrugged off. Despite the invigorating narrative, the female characters obtain little screen-time – relegating David’s wife, Nancy (Sienna Miller), to the background.
More so than touching story-telling and subdued visuals, Miller’s determination enhances this gripping and intelligent docudrama. Like with Philip Seymour Hoffman in Capote and Jonah Hill in Moneyball, Foxcatcher‘s peculiar casting choices succeed wholeheartedly. Carell, Tatum, and Ruffalo – earning Oscar nominations in well-crafted roles – enhance their comedic chops and charismatic personas. Like our lead characters’ mentor/student conflicts, this experience wrestles with harsh truths and deep-seeded emotions.
Release date: June 6th, 2014
Distributors: Columbia Pictures, Metro-Goldwyn-Mayer
Running time: 112 minutes
Sequels – we love to hate some of them, and hate to love others. The sequel is undoubtedly the most complained-about trope in Hollywood’s bag of tricks. Extending franchises and profit margins, additional instalments are designed to market big-name brands and draw larger audiences to the theatre. However, overcoming this manipulation of brand-name products, the new, gag-fuelled 21 Jump Street franchise has propelled itself above the competition. Continuing this year’s string of ambitious and alluring comedies, 22 Jump Street tickles audiences and studio bean-counters in the right places.
The 2012 original, based on the kitsch 1980s TV series of the same name, was one of that year’s biggest surprises. Busting out of the gate, directors Phil Lord and Chris Miller (Cloudy with a Chance of Meatballs, The Lego Movie) were given permission to tackle anything Hollywood was willing to give them. Taking on bizarre concepts, these two geniuses have leant their skills to two features in 2014. Their second release, though not as charming or consistent as the first, is still a significant step above most big-budget farces. In the original, our lead characters, after graduating from the police academy, had to go back to high school to infiltrate drug dens and contrasting cliques. Picking up where they left off, Lord and Miller’s latest creation places everything and everyone in the firing line. This time around, our favourite crime-crippling and quirk-fuelled cops, Schmit (Jonah Hill) and Jenko (Channing Tatum), feel at home in the city they protect. Reinstated to police duty, this partnership is obsessed with making a name for itself. However, their egos nosedive when they’re assigned to follow notorious drug kingpin Ghost (Peter Stormare). After letting Ghost escape their clutches, Schmit and Jenko are thrown to the wolves once again. Conveniently, their ass-kicking unit has moved across the street to, you guess it, 22 Jump Street. Lectured by Captain Dickson (Ice Cube), our two rag-tag cops are ordered to do everything they did the first time around to track down a synthetic drug called “WHYPHY”. Schmit and Jenko, known to play by their own rules, must face their toughest assignment yet: fitting in at college.
With 22 Jump Street, Lord and Miller were given permission to do anything they wanted. Surprisingly, and efficiently, these joined-at-the-hip filmmakers are retreading old ground. To an outsider reading this review, this might seem tiresome and repulsive. However, this buddy-cop movie fights the biggest villain of all – sequelitis. Lord and Miller, inspired by influential action-comedies and their previous efforts, successfully grapple this sequel’s meta aspects. For the most part, 22 Jumps Street‘s wink-and-nudge gags are refreshing and inventive. From the opening chief-busts-some-balls scene, in which Nick Offerman’s character compares Schmit and Jenko’s new assignment to this instalment’s premise, the movie reflectively takes a stab at its existence, Hill and Tatum’s star power, the budget, and the buddy-cop genre. Not to be outdone, the star-laden cameos, wily plot-twists, and kinetic closing credits sequence bolster this frantic effort. In fact, I dare say this franchise is the worthy successor to the Lethal Weapon and 48 Hours series. However, coming close to breaking the fourth wall, some gags fall flatter than Tatum’s ab-zone. Some jokes, pointing out this sequel’s similarities to the original, hammer home the already overbearing message. On top of the movie’s comedic motifs, this sequel’s quaint subplots occasionally belabour the point. With Schmit falling for art student Maya (Amber Stevens) and Jenko forming a bromance with party-hungry frat-boy Zook (Wyatt Russell, Kurt Russell and Goldie Hawn’s son), some sequences violently shift the movie’s tone from boisterous, to poignant, then to dour. But hey, as happy-go-lucky cinema-goers, you have a choice between this or A Million Ways to Die in the West (make the right choice, people!). Thankfully, unlike most comedy sequels, 22 Jump Street‘s reoccurring gags work wonders for its hearty subtext. Laughing at its own stupidity, the car chases, wacky villains, and hormone-fuelled settings are welcome ingredients in this potent concoction.
“We Jump Street, and we ’bout to jump in yo ass.” (Captain Dickson (Ice Cube), 22 Jump Street).
Embracing the college lifestyle, 22 Jump Street even skewers its more impressionistic and idiosyncratic conceits. Hurling poetry slams, co-ed bathrooms, and Spring Break into the mix, Schmit and Jenko’s actions and reactions are equally charming. Beyond Hill’s improvised quips and Tatum’s significant physical presence, credit goes to screenwriters Michael Bacall, Oren Uziel, and Rodney Rothman for developing this instalment’s pop-culture-savvy and likeable sense of humour. Conquering modern studio-driven comedy’s foibles, this team’s think-outside-the-box technique pays off. In addition, Lord and Miller’s dynamic visual style keeps the audience entertained throughout its appropriate 112-minute run-time. Utilising valuable camera, editing, and sound design tricks, the duo’s enthusiastic and light-hearted direction propels us through the tried-and-true story structure. Some moments, including Schmit and jenko’s preposterous drug-related freak-out, test their unbridled split-screen techniques. Comparing Schmit’s internal struggle to Jenko’s unbridled optimism, this colour-laden sequence delivers major laughs. Of course, Bouncing off their acting strengths and weaknesses, this series would crumble without Hill and Tatum’s immeasurable chemistry. Establishing a polar-opposites-type connection, these leading men deliver charismatic and modest turns in larger-than-life roles. Lending his writing and acting talents to this series, Hill’s quick-witted personality and distinctive physical features elevate his captivating turn. Coming off his second Oscar nomination, this A-lister works well with anyone and anything. Tatum, bolstering his career with the original and Magic Mike, steals the show as the bumbling jock. Establishing his parkour skills and good looks, some scenes play like Tatum’s superhero-saga audition reel.
Reasonably, everyone expected the original and its sequel to bomb spectacularly for different reasons. Judging by how these series’ normally play out, a sorrowful outcome was expected for Lord, Miller, Hill, and Tatum’s passion project. However, emphatically so, this series has overcome incredible odds to out-class and out-gun the competition. Thanks to its meta-narrative, kooky action sequences, and talented lead actors, 22 Jump Street, despite being a highly-anticipated sequel, is one of the year’s biggest surprises.
Release date: June 28th, 2013
Distributor: Columbia Pictures
Running time: 131 minutes
Hollywood has become an industry that will recycle any concept for a quick profit. I know I’m repeating myself when I state this claim, but, for some reason, studios have no problem blatantly copying one another. Famous Hollywood double-ups such as Deep Impact/Armageddon, Dante’s Peak/Volcano and Mirror Mirror/Snow White and the Huntsman are frequently mentioned whenever someone goes on a tirade against big-budget movies. This year, Olympus has Fallen and White House Down have formed the paranoia inducing and jingoistic double-up to end them all.
These blockbusters have stretched the bonds of societal comfort and plausibility by destroying one of the world’s most important landmarks. White House Down may cause fatigue, primarily because it was released after Olympus has Fallen, but it’s a popcorn flick with brawn, laughs, and gusto. This extravaganza starts out with a comparison between two commendable and ambitious characters. Washington D.C. Capitol officer and single father John Cale (Channing Tatum) achingly wants to impress his precocious, politically motivated, tech-savvy daughter Emily (Joey King). Taking her on a White House tour, Cale hopes his corresponding job interview with the Secret Service will go as smoothly. Meanwhile, US President James Sawyer (Jamie Foxx) is pushing world leaders to sign a peace treaty which could pull all troops out of the Middle East. This controversial plan runs into resistance from Speaker of the House Eli Raphelson (Richard Jenkins), the military, and the media. While these events take place, suspicious figures, led by Stenz (Jason Clarke), waltz around the White House and Capitol Building dressed as janitors. These figures, of course, turn out to be psychopathic mercenaries with a reckless distain for Sawyer’s time in office.
You can pretty much guess what happens next. In fact, this entire movie is based around plot-points, character arcs, and clichés from other, more inventive, action-dramas. Its ‘Die Hard in the White House’ premise has been trodden on tirelessly throughout modern action movie history. Thankfully, this mash up of Air Force One, The Rock, The Siege, and Taken is nowhere near as bad as it sounds. Despite the tired narrative, White House Down‘s many zippy and unique aspects make for an enjoyable explosion fest. Director Roland Emmerich (Independence Day, 2012), gladly, avoids the tropes and ticks that make several of his previous efforts nigh unwatchable (God knows how both he and Michel Bay made tolerable movies within the same year!). Known for blowing up monuments and wiping out large populations on screen, Emmerich’s work is normally drowned in cartoonish humour and nonsensical plot strands. Here, despite the film’s exhaustive run-time and cheesiness, he applies a more subtle yet enrapturing approach to silly material. It was baffling to see the first 30 minutes of an Emmerich film being based around witty banter and noticeable character development. I was enjoying each interaction and plot strand before the inevitable shoot outs and explosions kicked in. To begin the necessary comparisons with Olympus has Fallen, I’ll state that the Gerard Butler-led action flick works better as a whole. However, White House Down does contain many awe inspiring and applaudable moments. Thanks to the brisk pace and baffling twists, this slightly satirical and excessive action flick is one of 2013’s biggest surprises (ironic, given its disappointing box office performance).
Emmerich, however, doesn’t pull back from making preposterously stupid links between the plot and the heavy-handed messages. It’s right wing, fascist agenda is glaringly obvious and beyond inappropriate. Despite the shout outs to republican craziness, NRA, military injustice, Government conspiracies and preachy journalists, Emmerich can’t pull anything together to say something meaningful. Thankfully, the terrorists aren’t defined by race or ‘religious’ creeds. I know I’m asking too much of an action-disaster flick, but Emmerich should’ve stuck to the courage of his convictions. Where he does excel, however, is in the explosive action set pieces. From destroying New York with a mutant lizard (Godzilla) to obliterating Earth with freak winds and intelligent tornados (The Day After Tomorrow), Emmerich continually puts the pedal to the metal. His video game-esque apocalyptic-disaster movies push the boundaries of believability and filmmaking technology. Here, we go room by room as the world’s safest residence is torn apart. He finds inventive and baffling ways to tare chunks out of famous buildings and American ideals. Though lacking the grit and intensity of Olympus has Fallen’s invasion sequence, the White House takeover here is gleefully swift. The camera moves from one kill to the next as the punchy and kinetic action set pieces thrill and spill. Emmerich delivers one stupefying moment after another. I threw my hands up when Cale and Sawyer pulled donuts on the White House lawn with the President’s suped-up limo (aptly titled ‘Ground Force One’).
“Can you not hit me in the head with rocket launcher when I’m trying to drive?” (John Cale (Channing Tatum), White House Down).
James Vanderbilt(Zodiac)’s screenplay elevates a movie packed with tension inducing set pieces and brutal murders. The hilarious dialogue and zany winks and nudges come thick and fast. A White House tour turns into a pacy back-and-fourth between several wacky individuals. These moments, gladly, boost the archetypal characters. Cale, fit with a white singlet and point to prove, is a pretty yet emotionally damaged John McClane clone. Despite the laughably predictable plot and character turns, Cale comes off as a sympathetic and courageous hero. Butler may be a more charismatic presence, but Tatum still establishes himself as a charming and beguiling action star. His physicality and snappy delivery push him through each set piece and conquering speech. His rapport with Foxx highlights the sheer talent flowing between these popular performers. Foxx, though miscast, delivers an enjoyable and intriguing turn. Whilst bringing out his inner Barack Obama, Foxx urbanises the all important Leader-of-the-Free-World role. With his can-do attitude and Air Jordans in tow, Sawyer is a Political character by way of youth marketing and focus groups. Unfortunately, the supporting cast members, though talented, are stuck in bland, two dimensional roles. Gyllenhaal, though effective in her early scenes with Tatum, is left to simply yell orders over the phone and look mildly concerned. Jenkins can only draw a mild shade of life from his tiresome role. Meanwhile, Clarke, James Woods, and Jimmi Simpson go overboard as the sociopathic and vengeful villains.
With its talented cast and punchy action set pieces, White House Down is a surprisingly engaging action flick. Emmerich, thankfully, has crated a ludicrous, explosive, and funny extravaganza. I’m now trying to figure out what the next blockbuster double-up will be. ‘Taken on a cargo ship’, anyone?
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