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Tuesday
Sep092014

TIFF: Two to see again in "Foxcatcher" & "Song of the Sea"

Nathaniel's adventures at TIFF. Days Whichever.

Here are a two films that I feel I should see again, primarily because they're ambitious works and I wonder if my response would change if I had more familiarity with their visual language. You know how that goes with more complicated art.

FOXCATCHER

Bennett Miller, a remarkably consistent auteurial voice, once again demonstrates great aptitute at exploring masculine intimate true stories and mining them for larger weighty themes, without any of the glazy sentiment that tends to be slathered onto both sports movies and biopics. His best move here is to study the alien body language of wrestlers, like it's a foreign tongue for which close visual track is your only form of subtitles. Channing Tatum and Mark Ruffalo speak this foreign tongue fluently. They play Mark and Dave Schultz, Olympic Gold Medalists in wrestling, "a low sport" (that's Mother DuPont's words as perfectly uttered by Vanessa Redgrave). Into their lives comes a would be patron and "coach" John DuPont, a filthy rich patriotic nutjob who completely takes over and irrevocably and tragically alters their fate.

I was interested the whole time, but unfortunately it never fully engrosses, and moves as if mired in grandiloquent molasses. The line deliveries follow suit with simple sentences feeling as long as paragraphs. The movie improves as it goes, though, ending with a gut punch. I'm not sure why I found it offputting, exactly, despite easily identifiable strengths, but I'm going to chalk it up to its over confidence in its own greatness and the conception and execution of the catalystic figure Steve Carell's John DuPont. It's a very prosthetics and mimicry-based performance of a very difficult role -- to say these words and bring nuance rather than "i'm a dangerous pathetic nutjob!" I can't imagine -- and it's hard to feel the inexorable gravitational pull of any of the great tragedies (which I think this wants to be) when everything is so telegraphed as to its danger and when that gravitational pull towards tragedy is so slow, that any able bodied athlete out to be able to outrun it.

Best in Show: Easily Channing Tatum, who holds his jaw and body so distinctively that you feel, at all times, the monotonous life of this character: the training, the muscle soreness, the lack of any stimulation outside of the physical. He's heartbreatking, really, unable to articulate what meager thoughts are in his easily manipulated mind and body. His body is thick but his skin is thin with easily bruised feelings. Tatum totally understands the character, a manchild who just can't wrestle himself out from under any father figure's shadow.

Honorable Mention: Mark Ruffalo, also excellent throughout, is particularly sensational in one of the movies rare scenes that plays as much for uncomfortable comedy as it does for dramatic arc. He's asked to be a talking head on a documentary and finds his lines thoroughly distasteful. B (but Channing & Mark are total "A"s)

Oscar chances: A threat in all categories but particularly Supporting Actor and maybe Director 

SONG OF THE SEA

This Irish animated film, from the team that brought you The Secret of Kells, is so visually impressive that my eyes were twice their normal size trying to take it all in. I'd need a second pass to focus on the story which might be presented a touch too juvenile, like it's an animated film for very young children when its beauty and imagination are such that it really should be thinking bigger and aim for all ages. It's the tale of a little boy who loses his mother in the birth of his sister, who he then blames for everything for years. Some time later he discovers she's a magical being which means the fairy tales his mother told him in the film's prologue were true. In this world which is our world but filtered through animation that sees everything in glorious watercolor style backdrops, two dimensional lines, bright circles, and dazzling color patterns (my god its beautiful), all the magical beings are slowly being turned to stone. But why and how can he save his sister from the same fate?

Other than the fairies, who I didn't really enjoy, the character designs are compelling, especially for the central family and any animals in the film. The two best characters are the family's giant sheepdog, all bangs and tongue and loyalty and a memorable villain in "The Owl Witch" whose motives and arc are unusually strong and fascinating for this sort of movie. B+

Oscar Chances: it's so unlike any American CG animated film that it will really stand out in the crowd. I'd call it a certain contender for the  Best Animated Feature Oscar - GKids will qualify it this year - but the category sure is getting competitive so who knows.

Also at TIFFA Little ChaosWildThe Gate, Cub, The Farewell Party, BehaviorThe Theory of Everything, Imitation Game1001 Grams, Labyrinth of Lies, Sand DollarsThe Last Five YearsWild Tales, A Pigeon Sat on a Branch Reflecting on ExistenceForce Majeure, Life in a Fishbowl, Out of NatureThe Kingdom of Dreams and MadnessCharlie's Country, and Mommy

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Reader Comments (8)

I'm curious, how was Sienna Miller in Foxcatcher? I gather she doesn't have much screen time, since she never gets mentioned in articles or reviews. But is she good? Is she relegated to the thankless role of the grieving mother/wife?

I've been such a massive fan of her ever since Layer Cake and Alfie in 2004, but her career up untill now has, for the most part, been pretty disappointing but since having her baby two years ago she's filmed 5 movies, and filming a 6th., and they all sound really good.
AND she's been cast in Whit Stillman's and Ben Affleck's upcoming movies.

Being a fan of her, I'm so thrilled that her acting career is blossoming; working with top actors and exciting filmmakers on interesting movies. When I heard she was gonna be a mother, I was certain that her acting career would fizzle out completely.
But evidently motherhood has invigorated her.

Sorry, I digressed --- how is Sienna Miller in Foxcatcher?

September 10, 2014 | Unregistered CommenterUlrich

You made me want to see both movies immediately. Although I'm very worried about the gut punch you mentioned, together with the character description of Channing's character it sounds as it could be quite devastating for me.

Just this one picture of SONG OF THE SEA looks so beautiful.

On a general note, I want to thank you for all the reviews you are writing about the festival films. In two weeks there will be a film festival in my town (the BIFF), and so it is a perfect timing! Although our festival is of course much smaller and with different emphasis, thanks to you my list of films to watch is ever-growing, and I would sure have skipped some if it were not for your intriguing reviews.

September 10, 2014 | Unregistered CommenterIvonne

I am keen too about Miller she picked up several intriguing roles this last year and a half Foxcatcher and American Sniper included included,Nat are you saying Carrell is supporting and that you weren't convinced by him,what is Redgrave screentime,is she a long shot supporting nod in her..

September 10, 2014 | Unregistered Commentermark

mark - Channing Tatum is the principal character, with Steve Carell the co-lead and Mark Ruffalo as support. Unfortunately Vanessa Redgrave, only has one real scene, though she appears a few times outside of that scene.

Ultrich - like Vanessa, she's barely in it. Very few lines. though she's in the background of a handful of scenes.

ivonne - thank you. that means a lot. it's tough to attend AND write simultaneously, which is why there isn't as many articles on the blog as usual. As for Song of the Sae, the weird thing is its mesmerizing throughout by oddly the stills released or maybe just that they're frozen images don't do a lot to showcase that it just glows and is vibrant with color.

September 10, 2014 | Unregistered CommenterNathanielR

So did you like Carrell or not and is this an Anthony Hopkins as Lekter moment.

September 10, 2014 | Unregistered CommenterMark

mark -- i thought it was clear that i did not with that writeup.

September 10, 2014 | Unregistered CommenterNathanielR

I"m not much of a Carrell fan to begin with and was going to give this a miss (even if I did expect to have to watch it come awards voting season) but after reading your review, I'm interested in seeing Tatum. I will say, it's not a story I find remotely interesting. I also sense a cooling towards Carrell as an Oscar fav from many of the post Cannes reviews (not just this one).

Song.....sounds wonderful. That studio may not have the largest output, but Kells was so special and this seems to be following suit.

September 10, 2014 | Unregistered CommenterHenry

Do you think there's a possibility Carell could jump to Supporting Actor?

September 11, 2014 | Unregistered CommenterJS

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