Rating: The Good – 74.4 Genre: Drama, Sport Duration: 134 mins Director: Bennett Miller Stars: Steve Carell, Channing Tatum, Mark Ruffalo
When a billionaire dilettante, John du Pont, attempts to build a reputation as a wrestling coach, he persuades the more vulnerable of the Olympic champion Schultz brothers, Mark, to lead his new team on his family’s Foxcatcher estate. As du Pont insinuates himself into Mark’s life until the latter withdraws, the disturbed misfit refocuses his attempt to lure the older brother, Dave, to Team Foxcatcher to the ultimate detriment of both siblings.
Based on actual events, Bennett Miller’s flagellating drama is a cognitively murky examination of the loneliness and exasperation of unfulfillment, from both human and more extreme perspectives. Changing Tatum becomes the focus for the former as the insecure and confused young man who has lived in the shadow of his older brother’s heroics. It’s a revelatory turn from the former model as he distills all the raging emotion of his character into a dangerous simmer. Representing the psychotic end of that personality’s spectrum is Steve Carell in an outstanding turn against type. Bloated with rabid inferiority issues and deranged paranoia, he’s unrecognisable as the insidious du Pont. But rounding off the cast as Dave Schultz is Mark Ruffalo and it’s the performance we always knew was coming from this consistently impressive actor. With rather limited screen time, given the first two acts’ focus on the other two characters, he gives this story the emotional grounding it desperately needs. It’s a touching not to mention commanding piece of acting that should consolidate his reputation as one of the best actors working today.
Telling a distinctly unusual tale, Foxcatcher offers much in the way of psychological intrigue and it curiously compels on those terms alone. Flush with revealing symbolism and set against Rob Simonsen’s (Moneyball) thoughtful score, it’s another starkly polished film from Miller in which he spends much of his time laying an immaculately composed canvas for his drama. But, while there’s plenty of it, it unfortunately needed more traction. Whereas Miller was aiming for a pensive touch, his directing instead feels a tad aloof. With such strong characters, we needed to see more of their human side. And in the case of Ruffalo who still managed to imbue Dave Schultz with all manner of deeply impressive personal touches, embracing that side to the story might well have paid dividends. As it stands, Foxcatcher remains an affecting work but not one that will bear too many revisits.
Rating: The Good – 71.4 Genre: Crime, Thriller Duration: 120 mins Director: Michael Mann Stars: Tom Cruise, Jamie Foxx, Jada Pinkett Smith
An L.A. cab driver (Jamie Foxx) unwittingly picks up hired killer (Tom Cruise) who forces him to drive him from one hit to another through the course of the night. Perhaps Michael Mann’s most mainstream film, many were quick to praise Collateral as one of his best on its release for its remarkable photography, outstanding action, and a top cast. However, unlike much, if not all of his previous work, there are some glaring weaknesses. This was his first directorial project that he didn’t write himself and it shows as his typical ultra-real dialogue is mostly replaced by a lot of undisciplined melodrama. The story gets downright ludicrous towards the end and some of the action requires a major suspension of disbelief. Mann himself is particularly indulgent in his use of music in both his build-up to an excellently staged nightclub shootout and a particularly awful Audioslave intermission (that latter obsession unfortunately carried over into his next feature Miami Vice). That said, Collateral remains as slick-looking a film as you’ll see and was a great advertisement for digital video. Shot entirely on DV, Mann makes startlingly use of that medium’s ability to capture lowly lit exteriors both up close and especially from distance. The result: a night-time L.A. like we’ve never seen it. The actors are all on top form. Cruise has rarely been more interesting, Foxx is highly relatable as the every-man cabby, and Mark Ruffalo scores well as the undercover cop on their trail. If you can suspend your disbelief during the last 15 minutes, you’ve got a solid thriller.
Rating: The Good – 70.2 Genre: Comedy Duration: 88 mins Director: John Hamburg Stars: Sam Rockwell, Steve Zahn, Mark Ruffalo
“You asked me if I ever killed anyone. Well, the answer is yes and no. I once sold a lady a pair of exploding slacks.” The comedy can be a bit hit-and-miss but given the hits vastly outnumber the misses and the whole thing is so damn original, you will immediately forgive it any such shortcomings. John Hamburg (who went on to write the Meet the Focker series) wrote and directed this quirky little tale of two singer/songwriters (Sam Rockwell and Steve Zahn), who are mistaken for safe-crackers by an eccentric Jewish mobster (Michael Lerner) who, together with his ridiculous henchman (Paul Giamatti), threaten them into a series of safe-cracking missions. Don’t pay too much attention to the plot or premise, simply sit back and enjoy the completely insane back-and-forth’s between the wonderfully conceived characters on show.
Rockwell and Zahn are decent but it’s the secondary characters which make Safe Men tick. Michael Lerner is terrific as Big Fat Bernie Gayle while Harvey Fierstein gives a similar charismatic performance as his Providence rival. Mark Ruffalo and Josh Pais provide some wonderful exchanges as the actual safe-crackers with the latter being particularly in his element (“We the men……We’re the right men for this job”). However, good as this illustrious cast are, all fall in the shadow of Paul Giamatti’s “Veal Chop”. Giamatti is sensational as he uses all his intuitive genius to concoct one of the few movie characters that defies all attempts at definition. The scene in the bar when he sinks the hook into Rockwell & Zahn (captured wonderfully by Hamburg) makes Safe Men worth watching all by itself.
Rating: The Good – 80 Genre: Crime, Mystery Duration: 157mins Director: David Fincher Stars: Jake Gyllenhaal, Robert Downey Jr., Mark Ruffalo
David Fincher’s inspired account of the Zodiac murders which haunted San Francisco in the 1970′s focuses on the various personalities who got caught up in the story from the reporters who covered it to the police who investigated it. The acting is uniformly excellent and with a cast full of top acting talent that shouldn’t be a surprise. Robert Downey Jr. is outstanding as Paul Avery, the journalist who initially makes most waves in the case, and the character (as it is written here) was perfect for Downey’s cheeky persona (a persona which has been perhaps over-ploughed at this point in his career). Mark Ruffalo’s turn as Inspector Toschi is without doubt the most complete and charismatic performance and he owns the camera when it’s on him. As the cartoonist who eventually broke the case (in many people’s eyes), Jake Gyllenhall has the most screen time but since his character Robert Graysmith, has by far the tamest personality, he had a lot to do to make up for the more fertile material Ruffalo and in particular Downey Jr. had. James Vanderbilt’s script is masterfully structured with a level of character construction rarely seen. It imbues each of the characters with layers of interesting quirks and traits and thus allows each of them to be interesting in their own unique way. Some screenplays can be seen to invigorate its cast and Zodiac is a case in point.
However, the standout performer here is the director. Shot in the patient style of the great 70′s films, Zodiac was a signal to the world that Fincher was maturing beyond the innovative experimenter, a trait which all great young directors share, and into someone who realises that often less is more. Seven and Fight Club have such strong cult followings (and rightly so) that many will always see this film as somewhat inferior to those but in many ways Zodiac is the more complete work. It’s one of the most impressively paced films in recent memory to the extent that the two and half hours zip by. Moreover, its intelligent structure ensures that the audience is kept up to speed with the intricate story throughout. On top of all that, Fincher brings one of the definitive 70′s composers David Shire on board to further engender the movie with that decade’s feel. However Zodiac’s greatest success lies in how Fincher captured the sense of paranoia and mystery that dominated the real life case. In this film, even the most ordinary of occurrences or interchanges develop the capacity to intensely frighten as the experience of not knowing who the killer is becomes a palpable intrusion on the concerns of the audience. This was the final masterstroke in a perfect performance by the great Fincher.