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Entries in Bennett Miller (5)

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)

 

Friday
Sep302011

Persona Non Linka

Thank you to Glenn for drawing our attention to this Melancholia poster starring Lars von Trier (one of a series). When was the last time you saw a director on his own movie poster?


I mean apart from Hitchcock's Psycho -- the one where he warns you about not entering the theater late -- I can't think of one (unless the director is also the lead actor of course). It's impish fun to use von Trier this way in marketing since anyone buying a ticket to Melancholia is going to know who he is. But the "persona non grata" Cannes seal in the upper left corner is the real design coup here. Well done, whoever thought of it.

Links!
My New Plaid Pants chooses five fav Gwyneth Paltrow performances. Where the hell is Flesh and Bone? That'd make mine.
Thelma Adams recruits female pundits and critics to talk Best Supporting Actress
EW is eager to meet all of your Avengers needs 
Flickr More Drive art. See also this week's Curio column
i09 selects the ten best sci-fi death scenes. Number 2 should be number 1, duh!
Shakesville offers up Princess Bride Monopoly (click image to view larger). Well done.  

Source

Awards Daily new pics of Michelle Williams as Marilyn Monroe 
Form is Void Have you ever seen Jim Henson's Time Piece (1966)? It gave him his first and only Oscar nomination (Best Live Action Short Film). It's "surprisingly spicy."

Finally, it seems that Bennett Miller will follow up Moneyball with Foxcatcher which is the story of crazy rich person / killer John DuPont, the heir to the DuPont fortune who killed an Olympic wrestler on the massive DuPont estate. His defense claimed paranoid schizophrenia but he was still found guilty. Steve Carell will play the challenging role. And, given what Carell has been able to do in Little Miss Sunshine and even Crazy, Stupid, Love. is there any reason to believe this couldn't be an Oscar nominated  next career step? This project is so fresh it doesn't even have an IMDb page yet (though I suspect that will change today given that this news is all over the 'net)

I guess Bennett Miller is only going to do true stories that are essentially tiny- window biopics of famous or somehow notorious men: Capote, Moneyball, Foxcatcher? It's a niche but at least everyone agrees that he's good at it. As for tiny-window biopics -- they're the best kind! The only good kind.

Friday
Sep092011

TIFF: Biopic Boys will be Boys

Paolo here in Toronto. My first TIFF movies are about real-life men who customarily look nothing like the attractive actors who play them on the big screen.

Edwin Boyd is a step in the right direction for Canadian cinema, since making a heist film like this is both relatively cheap and lucrative. It's about the WWII veteran turned 1950's Torontonian bank robber of the same name played by Scott Speedman. Speedman puts an athletic sensitivity to the role, whether Edwin is inside a singing booth or jumping over the counter to get the loot he wouldn't have gotten in his former job as a kind-hearted bus driver. The story covers him facing and indulging temptations, his addiction to the wrong kind of attention as well as to robbing banks, which he and his gang continue to do despite multiple arrests. There are clichés here, the biggest one is the golden-hearted criminal who also likes to get drunk and play music while celebrating his jackpots. I will give credit to the film's capability on whetting the audience's appetite on period specificities. It's also a treat to watch its grey and white cinematography, capturing the rough surfaces of the city's architecture or his snowy escape from authorities. The supporting cast includes Kevin Durand as Edwin's right hand man and Brian Cox as the protagonist's father.

Also took in the Brad Pitt vehicle Moneyball which is about the baseball team Oakland Athletics in their 2002 season.

The film's first half is has a problematically distinct voice from its second, making it difficult to forget that two writers are responsible for its script. The first, which I'll call the Steve Zaillian half, has Pitt portraying the A's general manager Billy Beane. The script makes him have the same conversation with other people, telling his financier, other GM's, his precocious daughter, her mother (Robin Wright) and her mother's boyfriend (Spike Jonze) that he's fine even if both parties know, through local and national news, that his team is having board room and locker room problems. The A's are having trouble finding 'stars' like Jason Giambi who have left the team. Fortunately, Billy meets Peter Brand (Jonah Hill), a fictionalized version of Paul de Podesta who introduces the idea that instead of buying 'stars,' the team has to 'buy runs.' It's a method that, to someone like me who knows nothing about sports, sounds like cheating.

The underlying tension in many scenes in the film's first half is in anticipating Billy to squirm or get angry under all of these people's microscopes. This half also allows its audience to think about what might have happened if the person originally slated to direct this movie, Steven Soderbergh, had done so. Hopefully I'm not the only person who can see Soderbergh's skills in satire, and he would have highlighted these characters' callousness and childlike stubbornness. 

The second half, when the A's fate turns around, belongs to a writer with a more distinct voice, brainy frat boy Aaron Sorkin. Just like Charlie Wilson's War or Studio 60, this movie has its share of Abbott and Costello-like telephone or office conversations. He also tends to romanticize whatever he's writing about, which is baseball this time around. He even makes Peter, a generally scientifically minded character in the first half, seem emotional later on. But admittedly it still works better here than the affected humanity in The Social Network. Director Bennett Miller, with the help of his male dominated cast (including the surprisingly capable Hill) also negotiates and sutures these two voices well.