Foxcatcher Review – Tackling the Truth


Director: Bennett Miller

Writers: E. Max Frye, Dan Futterman

Stars: Steve Carell, Channing Tatum, Mark Ruffalo, Vanessa Redgrave


Release date: November 14th, 2014

Distributor: Sony Pictures Classics

Country: USA

Running time: 130 minutes


 

4/5

Best part: The impressive performances.

Worst part: The underutilised female characters.

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.

Steve Carell.

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.

Channing Tatum & Mark Ruffalo.

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).

Tatum & Carell.

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.

Verdict: A magnificent and gruelling Oscar contender.

Rush Review – Speed of Life


Director: Ron Howard

Writer: Peter Morgan 

Stars: Chris Hemsworth, Daniel Bruhl, Olivia Wilde, Alexandra Maria Lara


Release date: September 13th, 2013

Distributors: Universal Pictures, Entertainment One, StudioCanal, Universum Film AG

Countries: UK, Germany, USA

Running time: 122 minutes


 

4½/5

Best part: Hemsworth and Bruhl.

Worst part: The under-developed female characters.

To a certain extent, sport is instilled in everyone’s flesh and blood. In an instant, it can send people into dizzying highs or crushing lows. It can represent an entire country’s strengths and weaknesses, and can turn hard working men and women into enviable role models. A sport built on an excess of prestige and power is Formula 1 racing. This enrapturing event is captured seamlessly in Rush – a movie about taking names, becoming a champion, and rolling with the punches.

Chris Hemsworth.

Built on top of piles of money and will-power, Formula 1 is one of sporting history’s greatest accomplishments. This popular sport, as Rush is concerned, attracts people thanks to thrills, chills, and spills. Documenting the search for glory and recognition, Rush presents a brutally honest yet beguiling analysis of this dangerous competitive sport. This pulsating and emotionally powerful sports drama chronicles two drivers pushing themselves to breaking point. Money and power hungry playboy James Hunt (Chris Hemsworth) lives for the many highs of his debaucherous lifestyle. Sleeping around first and winning Formula 3 races later, his immense talents are a match for the punishing Formula 1 circuit. His leap from Hesketh racing to Mclaren sets him up for success. Meanwhile, irritable and socially inept Austrian driver Niki Lauda (Daniel Bruhl), after turning down his father’s offer to become an accountant, takes it upon himself to reach his near untouchable goals. His intensity and overblown persona push him from low-level team BRM into Formula 1 powerhouse Ferrari’s line of sight. With both drivers reaching the prestigious event by 1975, their troubling Formula 3 rivalry spills over into their first Formula 1 season. From then on, the opposing forces stare each other down whilst speeding along tracks across the world. Off the track, Hunt’s enviable yet questionable antics hurl him into several regrettable decisions, including a rushed marriage to supermodel Suzy Miller (Olivia Wilde). Meanwhile, Lauda’s relationship with the ever understandable Marlene (Alexandra Maria Lara) will force Lauda into deciding where his priorities lie.

Daniel Bruhl.

Whether Steve McQueen is lighting up the track in Le Mans or Lightning McQueen is zipping through an animated universe in Pixar’s Cars, car races/chases are welcome on the big screen. Tapping into modern sporting culture thanks to Mark Webber and Sebastian Vettel’s Red Bull Racing quarrels, Rush illustrates that sportsmanship is just as important as landing a spot on the podium. Unlike today’s Formula 1 competition, the 70s era relied entirely on sleaze, slickness, style, technological advancements, and greed. It was an era in which Cigarette sponsorship and chauvinistic personalities were far more important than teamwork and determination. Its cultural impact rang true with people escaping their lives to watch celebrity sportsmen glide around a track at breakneck speeds of up to 300km/h. Director Ron Howard (Apollo 13, A Beautiful Mind) potently relays these seminal themes. Known for jumping between genres and extraordinary stories, Howard’s directorial style achieves a sensory and psychological stranglehold over multiple demographics. From crime-thrillers (RansomThe Da Vinci Code),to Westerns (The Missing), and family-friendly adventure flicks (The Grinch), Howard’s film-making dexterity, attention to detail, and persistence continually shine through. Like with Cinderella Man, Howard is unafraid to present the realistic and fantastical elements of this inspirational story. He is brave enough to utilise advantageous sports movie tropes and an efficient docudrama structure. Like his other biopics, Rush highlights the lead characters’ historical importance by presenting a memorable and valuable part of their lives. Despite having not been interested in Formula 1 racing before, I was instantly swept up in Rush‘s subtleties and frenetic narrative. Thankfully, the energetic pacing establishes the thrills and visceral nature of Hunt and Lauda’s bitter rivalry.

The thrill of the race!

The greatest sports movies leave the most alienating aspects of each sport on the sidelines. They swing for the fences to highlight the symbolic intricacies and emotional moments. Like Moneyball and Warrior, Rush focuses on the intense physical, mental, and spiritual training these athletes undertake. The movie’s tension-inducing spectacle, of cars circling round tracks and livelihoods spiralling out of control, delivers a rush in itself. Before it reaches the checkered flag, the movie depicts a sensitive yet dense examination of manliness, egotism, and humility. The lead characters embark upon parallel journeys that strengthen the narrative. Throughout the snarky battle of brains, braun, wits and raw talent, Howard leaves no stone unturned. This invigorating drama lives by the phrase uttered pensively by Lauda: ”A wise man learns more from his enemies than a fool from his friends”. It captures the soaring highs and crushing lows of these characters’ existences. Pushing themselves tirelessly to achieve perfection, their breaking points are expressed in startlingly different ways – Hunt’s through pleasure and Lauda’s through searing pain. Like with Frost/Nixon, Howard crafts a metaphorical boxing match, on and off the track, between two understated professionals. Howard creates a detailed timeline of applaudable life achievements, from the gleeful Formula 3 race to the 1976 Japanese Grand Prix, and gently hits the breaks during the tender moments. It’s a tale of sportsmen driven by obsession, manipulation, oneupsmanship, and envy. These men would rather complain to the authorities about petty insults and slight miscalculations than accept defeat. Despite this, these unlikable yet lauded figures transition into empathetic individuals. With explosive arguments spiced up by punchy, profound dialogue, Peter Morgan’s impeccable screenplay is whistled through commendable accents and mannerisms.

“A wise man can learn more from his enemies than a fool from his friends.” (Niki Lauda (Daniel Bruhl), Rush).

Olivia Wilde.

Rush‘s pulpy visual style, thanks to Howard’s succinct direction and Anthony Dodd Mantle’s kinetic cinematography, punches it into overdrive. Their attention to detail and engaging visual styles capture the era’s bold aesthetic. Mantle’s monumental camerawork tingles the senses and lends this obscure story a bubbly personality. Howard gleefully toys with historical events. Eye-catching montages emphasise the distinct intricacies of the characters’ lives and ostentatious Formula 1 season. Rush gleefully displays every bright, enthralling facet of this valuable and chauvinistic era. Archival footage is spliced seamlessly into certain sequences to emphasise the story’s importance. Howard relentlessly splatters the screen with a vibrant and eye-catching re-creation of the sexy 70s. The immaculate costumes, set designs, practical effects and CGI vistas fuel the movie’s verisimilitude. If that wasn’t enough, Howard’s auteur touch even makes sure the wacky hairstyles, bloated egos/personas, and roaring crowds all put in 110%. The ladies may turn out for Hemsworth’s staggering physique (on display throughout), but everyone will enjoy the kinetic and meticulous race sequences. These tension-inducing set-pieces move blindingly fast and illustrate why 25 drivers risk their lives to compete each year. Mantle puts the pedal to the metal in these sequences, emphasising each joyous and disastrous moment with immersive tracking shots and first-person photography. Crashes and tailspins cap off each race with flawless technical precision, depicting the competition’s baffling cruelty. This is edge-of-your seat entertainment, hitting the audience with car crash-like force. Flashy title cards, freeze frames, and Hans Zimmer’s thundering score rev-up each race and illuminate Rush‘s sweeping scope. The movie accurately presents the cars, pit crew gear and tracks from this memorable era. Shots showcasing oil hurriedly pouring into engines, flames bursting out of exhausts, and intense rumbles continually build to captivating climaxes.

Man and machine!

Despite it’s glorious positives, Rush pulls some awkward skids along the way. Howard’s heavy handed messages are needlessly explained. Philosophical moments, clunky speeches, and metaphors dent this otherwise enjoyable experience. As with most docudramas, the celebrity characters attract large audiences. Formula 1 nuts, in particular, will be pleased to see Hunt and Lauda being treated with respect. Rush‘s objective insight focuses on the well-known wheelings and dealings of Formula 1. Lauda is a fascinating and frustrating character. Ordering a pit crew to stay over night to fix his car, Lauda is a man who, for better or worse, always has his mind on the job. Believing that Formula 1 is, by far, the greatest thing on Earth, this socially awkward character embraces his persistence and rat-like persona. Insults fly left and right when he meticulously inspects other drivers’, managers’ and mechanics’ efforts. Bruhl delivers a captivating and intense performance as, arguably, Formula 1’s greatest machine. His romantic sub-plot develops this multi-dimensional character. On the other hand, Hunt is a god-like enigma and confused, childish celebrity who continually pushes himself to the limit. A spoiled brat fascinated by life’s most pleasurable facets, victory, money, women, drugs, and alcohol may push him to the edge. Hemsworth delivers a dynamic and touching performance as this alluring yet tragic figure, capturing Hunt’s sense of humour and boyish charm. Rush‘s most powerful moments involve conflicts between opposing individuals e.g. Hunt’s violent run-in with an obnoxious journalist. Unfortunately, the sub-plot between Hunt and Miller lacks lasting impact and is only touched upon in three potent scenes.

Faster than a Ferrari, smoother than an Aston Martin, and grander than a Rolls-Royce, Rush is a modern action-drama without the excess, bloat or predictability. With its immaculate attention to detail, kinetic visuals, and powerhouse performances, the movie ultimately suggests that nothing is more exhilarating than the speed of life.

Verdict: A tense, thought-provoking, and emotionally resonant sports-drama.

Silver Linings Playbook Review – Dancing with Disaster


Director: David O. Russell

Writer: David O. Russell (screenplay), Matthew Quick (novel)

Stars: Bradley Cooper, Jennifer Lawrence, Robert De Niro, Chris Tucker


Release date: November 16th, 2012

Distributor: The Weinstein Company 

Country: USA

Running time: 122 minutes


 

4/5

Best part: Dynamic performances from Cooper and Lawrence.

Worst part: De Niro’s slightly obnoxious character.

They say that “every cloud has a silver lining”. This metaphor illuminates the good moments in an otherwise dark existence. This idea is what Silver Linings Playbook explores in great detail. Positivity is the basis of this rewarding and genuine romantic comedy. Rom-coms are normally never this in-depth. But this film is worthy of its Academy Award nominations. Its charismatic performances and solid messages prove that Hollywood rom-coms with real heart and laughs can still be made.

Bradley Cooper & Jennifer Lawrence.

Silver Linings Playbook‘s story picks up with Pat Solitano (Bradley Cooper) in a mental  institution. He seems fine, yet the doctors and courts insist that he has a problem. That doesn’t stop his stern and comforting mother Dolores (Jacki Weaver) from taking him out of the asylum and putting him in her and Pat Sr.(Robert De Niro)’s home. His rehabilitation crumbles as he discovers and is re-introduced to several problems under their roof. Trying to get his marriage back on track, Pat seeks to become a better person and live every day to the fullest. His plans, however, are disrupted by promiscuous young widow Tiffany (Jennifer Lawrence). Her mysterious and intimidating personality attracts him. However, her husband’s death has caused her own severely debilitating mental issues. With Pat’s family and friends, and Tiffany, by his side, he may hopefully find that desirable silver lining.

Robert De Niro & Jacki Weaver.

Whether it’s Jack Nicholson rising up against injustice in One Flew Over the Cuckoo’s Nest or Angelina Jolie and Winona Ryder befriending one another in Girl, Interrupted, instability and rehabilitation prove to be Profound topics to put on celluloid. Much like this year’s hit indie-drama Smashed, a controversial yet painful topic has been discussed with a balance of sorrow and comedy. The humour here comes from a quirky sense of irony and awkwardness. The supporting characters react to Pat and Tiffany with a conflicting array of emotions. Between each psychotic episode, Pat and Tiffany relieve the tension by discovering the positives of everyday life. Silver Linings Playbook is an intimate and detailed examination of the effects of mental instability. It discusses Pat’s mental issues with a warming sincerity. Sidelined with mood swings and multiple restraining orders, Pat’s journey to success and happiness isn’t easy. Pat himself is an unpredictable yet heartfelt human being. His love for his unfaithful wife is what put him away. Unable to feel joy or comfort in things he used to embellish, his freeing quest to find happiness turns his conflicted personality into something worth cherishing.

Cooper & Chris Tucker.

Cooper & Chris Tucker.

The film delves deeply into his life, as multiple sources of his condition are discovered. He wears a garbage bag while jogging through the neighbourhood and throws acclaimed novels through windows. This erratic behaviour promptly alerts the viewer to Pat’s burgeoning diagnosis. Pat still is, however, an inspirational character. Interacting with his family while balancing a keen intellect and bright personality, he soon becomes the silver lining of many people’s lives. David O. Russell wrote and directed this uplifting story. His acclaimed works, including Three Kings and The Fighter, have received deserved attention and multiple Academy Awards. Known for on-set shouting matches with his actors, O. Russell is definitely one of the most keen-eyed and determined directors working in Hollywood today. His delicate direction and witty screen-writing bring life to a predictable story. It’s a story of boy-meets-girl, but peppered with several alarming nuances along the way. O. Russell clearly loves heated arguments (watch The Fighter for a definitive example). Here, every character’s realistic and dangerous problems collide at once. This leads to several breath-taking punches and insults being thrown across the Solitano’s house.

“I do this! Time after time after time! I do all this shit for other people! And then I wake up and I’m empty! I have nothing!” (Tiffany (Jennifer Lawrence), Silver Linings Playbook). 

Cooper & Lawrence.

Cooper & Lawrence.

Having directed Christian Bale’s outstanding turn in The Fighter, O. Russell is a masterful actor-director. He is able to draw remarkable performances out of actors far outside their comfort zones. Cooper, known as the ‘pretty boy’ in films such The Hangover and The A-Team, deserves every bit of praise for his performance here. Cooper’s facial twitches, wide smile and charismatic personality bring this difficult role to life. Lawrence proves, both here and in The Hunger Games, that she is currently the best young actress in Hollywood. Her enthralling persona, sarcastic tone and inherent sexuality add multiple layers to Tiffany’s damaged psyche. The chemistry between her and Cooper is electric and provides the best on-screen couple since (500) Days of Summer. Recovering from a disastrous run of poor material over the past decade, De Niro is back to his intense best. He proudly and distinctly embodies an irritating character. His character’s obsessive love of the Philadelphia Eagles NFL team is irrationally crazy in itself.

The film is as naturalistic and comforting as its Philadelphia setting. O. Russell proves once again that he can create truly affecting material. Credit also goes to Cooper and Lawrence for proving their Oscar-worthy talents.

Verdict: An enlightening and unique rom-com.