Bennett Miller’s ‘Foxcatcher’ is a serviceable film about Jon “Golden Eagle” Du Pont and a salacious period of his life that revolved around USA Olympic Wrestling and the Schultz Brothers. Bennet’s previous outings ‘Capote’ and ‘Moneyball’ were more fun than ‘Foxcatcher’ but all similarly directed with deft hands. The film is engrossing, due more to the transcendent performances than the story per se; however, instead of apathy I found myself wanting to know more about all of the characters. As unpleasant as the story and the ultimate conclusion are I did find the character study to be fascinating, which should be the goal of this type of film. As opposed to spending the few years that built up to this tragedy, I would have liked to have seen how but Du Pont and the Shultz’s personalities were formed and the road that led them to each other.
What Miller and his actors achieve in ‘Foxcather’ is to be lauded, the film transports the viewer into this insular environment that the Du Pont fortune afforded Jon’s eccentric personality. Steve Carrell has earned accolades for his transformative performance which is only heightened because of his deep comedic roots. There are no laughs to be found here, but instead a portrait of a mentally ill man with a plethora of undiagnosed conditions that is easily enabled by his family’s wealth. It’s important to note that there isn’t an undercurrent of 1% bashing, but instead a cautionary tale about undiagnosed mental illness run amok. The other performances of note come from Channing Tatum who easily cuts the figure of an Olympic caliber wrestler and Mark Ruffalo that has to stretch his physicality in order to make him believable in the skin of David Shultz. Fortunately Ruffalo’s considerable ability allows the viewer to bridge that gap without hesitation. The one nagging feeling that gnawed at me during Ruffalo’s screen time is that the character isn’t as fleshed out and is practically martyrized by the denouement.
‘Foxcatcher’ is grounded in a stark reality and as a viewer I had no problem believing that this is an accurate portrayal of how these events unfolded. Any complaints I have about the movie are difficult to distill down because this is a well-executed, expertly crafted, and masterfully performed film that I can’t say that I particularly like. I understand the characters, the story, and the themes of wealth and mental illness, but I didn’t find that window into the film that made me identify with any of it. I am glad that I have this film in my film education, but unless you are a burgeoning cinefile I can’t recommend this film; however, if you want to consider yourself a well-rounded lover of film then I can’t recommend this film more because these are performances that you’ll need to make educated references and comparisons for years to come.
Alejandro G. Iñárritu’s ‘Birdman or the Unexpected Virtue of Ignorance’ is an unparallel cinematic feat that is unyielding in it’ structure and flare and a movie I could recommend watching once. The film’s pace is on point, the direction is phenomenal, the performances are as close to flawless as I’ve seen, and yet I still wouldn’t consider it a film I need to revisit. Don’t get me wrong, I am not disappointed that I saw ‘Birdman’, this film perhaps suffers from the hype that I allowed to build up in my own psyche. This film has been receiving positive word of mouth for months and has been dissected by pros and amateurs alike on countless forms of media; and if you were late to the game like me, ‘Birdman’ didn’t really stand a chance. ‘Birdman’ is a film and an impressive one in many ways, but it may have been heralded too highly for its’ own good.
Nominated for nine Oscars, 3 performance based, 3 for technical achievement, along with directorial achievement, best film, and screenwriting and I agree that for this year the film belongs in most of these pantheons. Michael Keaton, Emma Stone, and Ed Norton all bring top tier performances that are expected of actors this caliber. If ‘Birdman’ doesn’t win for Sound Mixing, Sound Editing, and Cinematography I’ll be fairly surprised as these are the real strengths of the film; along with directing of course. Film of the year, is difficult for me to argue as I haven’t seen all of the candidates and can offer no alternatives and the same goes for original screenplay as this category is split between original and adapted. I reference these nominations because while I don’t believe this is the best film of the year or even one of my favorites, I do support the nominations.
There was no breathing room in ‘Birdman’ cinematically, which in this world of second and sometimes third screens is almost necessary to properly captivate a modern audience. However I personally didn’t care about the outcome or about any of the characters particularly. The characters were drawn with complexity to be sure and each one flawed in there own way, but I never was able to find the window to allow me to empathize with any of them or become interested where their individual arcs ended. The movie was also actors talking a lot about acting and is self referential and a little too infused with pop culture references in regard to actors and superhero movies for me to take it as seriously as I should.
I would recommend real lovers of movies to see ‘Birdman’ to round out their viewing education. However, it’s not a film I can see referencing in the future or remembering particular beats or scenes beyond how the one tracking shot is stitched throughout the film. And it is a personal shortcoming that informs my viewing, but I like to have fun and root for a hero in a movie, it’s not necessary but it sure helps.
Matthew Vaughn’s ‘Kingsman: The Secret Service’ is the very reason the term popcorn cinema was coined, and I couldn’t be more pleased to have been able to experience it. Matthew Vaughn is teamed again with writers Jane Goldman and Mark Millar after the surprise hit ‘Kick-Ass’ from 2010. Matthew Vaughn has honed his directorial prowess since, in case you missed it, directing ‘X-Men: First Class’ in between these efforts. With the wild success of X-Men you would think that Fox and MARV films would have someone in executive ranks who would have the good common sense to market this film properly and get it out of the February graveyard. Not once did I see an ad for this film that included “from the director of X-Men: First Class” or really much advertising at all. I lend so much gravity to this point because I would like to use what small pedestal I have to tell people to see this film and see it in a theater and do it soon so as to not let the 50 shades crush devour this superior feat in filmmaking.
The performances in this film are a tad uneven but not distractingly so. Relative newcomer Taron Egerton is charming and up to task, holding his own in scenes with Colin Firth and Michael Caine who themselves are at their pithiest and consistent as ever. The biggest problem for the performers in the film is perhaps the strength of the rest of the film. It’s because this is the height of popcorn entertainment that there isn’t much for a lot of the tertiary characters to do but be one-dimensional placeholders for plot advancements. And finally there is the Samual Jackson who affected a lisp for the villain that is maybe a bit too tongue in cheek and can be a tad distracting from the overall experience.
Then there is the action, the kinetic, frenetic action that absolutely envelops this film and keeps you riveted from the opening title sequence to the final showdown. In no way is it hyperbole for me to say that this film has the finest action scene I’ve ever seen committed to celluloid, I’ll only say that at the end of the sequence I personally proclaimed ‘Amen!’. I cannot sell enough how captivated I was by the action and flow this film had, except to say that I’m seriously considering seeing it again in theaters while I have a chance; and I never do that, and especially for an action movie. This movie is pure spectacle and more fun than I’ve had at the theater in a long time.
This movie won’t win any awards, it won’t compare to the box offices of anything coming out of Marvel studios, and unless you work in a very hip place you won’t hear much water cooler talk about it. But this is the kind of movie that makes you kick yourself for not being more excited for it once you’ve already seen it. Matthew Vaughn had already won me over with ‘Kick-Ass’, and just reinforced that with ‘X-Men: First Class’, but after ‘Kingsman: The Secret Service’ he has jumped up to the top of directors whose films I will not miss. So please, call a friend, triangulate the coordinates to the nearest theater, and soak in this popcorn movie in the way it’s meant to be seen; at the theaters.