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Entries in Bennett Miller (7)

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

Saturday
Apr192014

YNMS²: Foxcatcher & Gone Girl

Unless you count the LEGO Movie's probable Best Animated Feature bid and the Sundance bow of Love is Strange (I'm still hopeful - it's playing Tribeca right now) 2014 hasn't seen much in the way of Oscar contenders just yet. Recent trailers are changing the collective shrug to raised eyebrows - between The Homesman (previously discussed), Jersey Boys (if you're feeling very generous), the Cannes lineup announcement and these two trailers from past nominated directors Bennett Miller (Foxcatcher) and David Fincher (Gone Girl) the body is ready for the first wave of Oscar predictions. We'll manage them before April wraps.

Both of these trailers have been around for a bit and both blissfully play more like teasers despite their length; the job of a trailer is to sell a future ticket, not to make you feel like you've already seen it so you don't need one.  Foxcatcher's traiser was actually released last year and then swiftly pulled before we could get to it but it recently resurfaced and Gone Girl has been kicking around for a week but I've heard your plea to discuss so a couple of quick notes follow

GONE GIRL

Yes. What's not to love really? Remarkable use of music and uncomfortable juxtapositions in the montage. Plus, Rosamund Pike's gorgeousity turning to the camera just in time for the vocals of "She" is just a marvelous 'we're-making-a-star here' relief given that her career, though healthy, deserves more fame and a richer choice of scripts. That final shot of her in the water is so disturbing. (Yikes). And though they aren't prominently featured in this trailer the supporting cast is really good with a lot of underused faces like Sela Ward and Missi Pyle. 

No. I got nothing though I guess I hope Fincher takes a break from crime thrillers soon and that greenish color palette which was fun for a couple of films but three in a row. It's approaching Eastwood's inky black and Soderbergh's yellow as a default rather than an artistic choice.

Maybe So. Casting Ben Affleck as your leading man has to be considered kind of risky, right? Aristically speaking. He's not the terrible actor some say he is but neither has he ever proven himself a great one. 

FOX CATCHER

Yes. Another minimalist peak at a crime drama, this one being a horrible and super weird true story. It has a very good chance of being riveting given the cast, the story and the writer/director (Bennett Miller of Capote and Moneyball fame). The "A coach is..." speech here is beautifully judged as a teaser framing device, especially with that pathetic shuffle into the gym with the pistol out. Steve Carell, Mark Ruffalo and Channing Tatum seem like a pretty great trio to hang a movie on. And did I just spot Vanessa Redgrave?!? ( "Yes, please" times so so so many.)

Also Yes. Channing Tatum in a singlet

No. I dread any potential "sweepers" in any of the acting categories -- just on principle because there are ALWAYS more than four great performances in a film year -- so though I've long thought Steve Carell was an Oscar calibre actor (I nominated him right here for Little Miss Sunshine) I don't relish seeing him win everything because he went the prosthetic and vocal affectation route. He looks good in the trailer, don't get me wrong. I just know that no matter how brilliant he is, he'll be wildly overpraised merely because of this and the meat of the role. 

Maybe So. I suppose the ultra specific details of this tale might not help it with accessibility for the masses, or even to feel potent thematically. But we'll worry about that later if it happens.

 

Are you a Yes, No or Maybe So ?
And does the strength of your answer coincide with your faith in their Oscar play? 

 

Friday
Jan312014

We Can't Wait #3: Foxcatcher

[Editor's Note: We Can't Wait is a Team Experience series, in which we highlight our top 14 most anticipated films of 2014. Here's Glenn Dunks on "Foxcatcher"]

Mark and Dave Schutlz played by Ruffalo and Tatum respectively

Foxcatcher 
Based on the true story of Olympic gold medalist Mark Schultz (Channing Tatum), Foxcatcher tells the story of how John du Pont (Steve Carell), member of the millionaire du Pont family, murdered Schultz's brother, wrestling champion Dave (Mark Ruffalo). 

Talent
Director Bennett Miller, unlike the David O. Russells of the world, is switching his casts with each movie. Here he is working with a screenplay by Oscar-nominated Dan Futterman and Emmy-nominated E. Max Eyre. Steve Carell, Mark Ruffalo and Channing Tatum take the three major roles, but the peripheries are filled out with such names as Vanessa Redgrave, Sienna Miller, Anthony Michael Hall and prolific character actor Brett Rice.

Why We Can't Wait
Appearing, at least on first inspection, like a cross between the real life sport drama of Moneyball and the small town true crime drama of Capote - Foxcatcher looks like another winner from Bennett Miller who is three for three and that's before you even count his arguable best work (the bscure and bonkers documentary The Cruise)The eclectic cast should be interesting and it'll be exciting to see what Carell does with darker more challenging character material. The trailer that was released last year (and then pulled) looked disturbing and creepy and Carell appears to be on fire with the weight gain and voice weak like watered-down tea.

But We Do Have To Wait
Sony Pictures Classics will distribute later in 2014, which perhaps suggests that it's a smaller movie than many will expect with a cast such as this (and hoping for Oscar attention). It seems likely that it will premiere at one of the big festivals (Venice would suit).

Previously
Under the SkinInherent ViceInto the Woods , Snowpiercer , Nymphomaniac , Boyhood , Big Eyes ,The Last 5 Years , Gone GirlCan a Song Save Your LifeVeronica Mars and those that just missed the cut

Saturday
May042013

New Oscar Predix! (And What Of Consecutive Nomination Heat?)

As I was constructing the new Best Picture charts -- yes, they're finally up. Have a looksie -- it occurred to me that I was foolishly betting against a lot of regular Oscar players. Why couldn't I find room for, say, George Clooney (Monuments Men), Joel Coen & Ethan Coen (Inside Llewyn Davis), and Martin Scorsese (Wolf of Wall Street), for example? The answer came in three parts.

Silver Linings Playbook + The Fighter ÷ 1970s = American Hustle

 

Click to read more ...

Thursday
Feb022012

Distant Relatives: Rocky and Moneyball

Robert here w/ Distant Relatives, exploring the connections between one classic and one contemporary film.

Most of the time in life we view ourselves as underdogs. Nobody really feels like an expert or a person of power. As such, the only way to succeed beyond our wildest dreams is to overcome the powerful, like Apollo Creed's pompous entourage or the well established like MLB's back rooms of smokey scouts. The two films we'll look at today enjoy utilizing the well worn tropes of the sports genre or to be more specific the redemption story sports genre and give us characters who are surrogates for us to be and for us to root for. Rocky, possibly the most famous sports movie of all time, certainly the most famous sports film to ever win Best Picture, tells us the story (as if you didn't know) of small time boxer Rocky Balboa, a normal downtrodden guy given a shot to box World Heavyweight Champion Apollo Creed in what's essentially a gimmick match when Apollo's appropriate challenger gets injured and a quick replacement is needed. In Moneyball we follow Oakland A's General Manager Billy Beane, a man with the unfortunate and nearly impossible task of assembling a small market, low budget baseball team that can compete with rich teams like the New York Yankees. With help he institues a system high on formulas and equations and low on traditional baseball intuition. Naturally, everyone expects him to fail. So our David and Goliath storylines are set up, and even with us the viewer naturally leaning toward the Davids of the world, is this enough for us to root for them?
 
Getting a chance at the champ of Boxing is a pretty lucky break for Rocky. And having a job in professional Baseball doesn't exactly evoke sympathy for Beane. This begs the question, how to really get us behind our protagonists. Well, these films could paint them into saintly perfection, beatify them as all-great heroes, or they could present them as multi-layered individuals, men with faults, faults that we understand, faults that we too possess. Consider Rocky Balboa. It's clear that the opportunity he has handed to him has little to do with his own cunning. The man hasn't exactly grabbed life by the horns. He's a shy, quiet guy, nervous around women, unlikely to make it much farther than he already has. As for Beane, he has somethign of a sad history in baseball. As a young man, eager scouts with big promises presented him an opportunity (and paycheck) that he couldn't refuse even though, as it turned out, he wasn't quite pro material. Was it right for Beane to dive headlong into his impending disaster? Maybe not. But would you have turned it down? Perhaps you're not like Rocky. You're not shy and shabby. But you've felt like a failure before. And maybe you're not like Billy Beane. Maybe you don't care about Baseball. But you've longed for a dream, even when you know it wasn't to be so.


With both films presenting simlarly sympathetic heroes, we come to the equally unscalable stakes. Apollo Creed is unbeateable. Not only has no other boxer ever defeated him, no boxer has ever stayed on his feet through an entire match. For Rocky to defeat Creed would be unprecedented. As for Beane, a the baseball experts so spitefully remind him, no one has ever so untraditionally assembled a team. To do so with success would change the sport. To lose for both of these men would most likely mean their livelihoods. Balboa would become the sucker who was creamed by Creed. His boxing career, not to mention his health could be wiped out, just as he's finally finding someone special and worth providing for. Beane too is on the brink of becoming the laughing stock of a sport he's spent his entire professional life in. Even if he were lucky enough to stay in the business it would mean demotion and relocation and all at the cost of his loving daughter's constant worry. With odds like that, the terrifyingly tense scene is set for these men to succeed. And here's the thing: in both cases, they don't.
 
But of course they do. In typical, yet still well structured sports-film fashion, there are things bigger than winning and losing. In both the cases of Balboa and Beane, their success is measured differently than first expected. Balboa famously "goes the distance" against Creed, still losing but avoiding the KO. Similarly Beane doesn't win the World Series with his team of misfits. But he does break the all-time American League winning streak, a feat probably harder than winning the World Series, and in doing so creates a team that becomes a baseball phenomenon. In both cases this could be a ploy, a pander. Telling we, the audience, who traversed the film's long path in the sympathetic shoes of our protagonists that even when we fail against impossible odds, we can still be winners. But say what you will about the sentimentality of these movies (and you're probably saying it more about Rocky than Moneyball), I don't think it's a pander. What we have are two films that break out of easy sports categorizaion by allowing our heroes to achieve something greater than what can be measured by a simple sports storyline.  
 
This is what makes both films such successful redemption stories. They present us with a similarly likable character, impossible task and unexpected victory on new terms. So if you find yourself pondering if all of the sidetracks into Beane's personal life were really necessary or chucking at Rocky's much parodied shouts of "Adrian! Adrian!" remember that these are the elements that make these films sink or swim. They're the personal stories that emphasize the intimate in the shadow of the impossible. They create tensino. They create excitement. They make you hold your breath.


 
Other Cinematic Relatives: The King's Speech (2010), Cinderella Man (2005), Chariots of Fire (1981), Hoosiers (1986)