Monday, December 01, 2014

Movie Review Jamboree

It is the height of laziness to compare Steve Carell's role as John du Pont in "Foxcatcher" to his most famous role as Michael Scott, but here it goes.  Both men live in Pennsylvania.  Both men have complicated relationships with their mothers.*  Both are yearning to be seen as both leaders of men and as 'one of the guys,' yet also are painfully incapable of making friends.  That's about where the comparisons end since, y'know, Michael never shot anyone** and was only borderline pathological, as opposed to all-out crazy.  It's a tremendous performance for Carell, who somewhat uses his reputation as a comedian and a generally-likable actor to keep us on our toes about du Pont.  On paper, he seems creepy as hell, but since it's Carell under all that makeup, maaaaybe there's a chance things will all turn out okay.

* = I'll never understand why 'The Office' never actually introduced Michael's mom in an episode.  They stretched this show out for umpteen years and introduced such inane plots as the whole Robert California era and Angela literally trying to have Dwight assassinated, yet the writers couldn't come up with a way to unlock the potential goldmine of Mrs. Scott as a recurring character?  For shame.

** = though he did hit Meredith with his car

Spoiler alert: they don't.  'Foxcatcher' is one of my favourite kinds of psychological thrillers, where relatively little capital-H Happens plot-wise, yet you never shake the feeling of mounting dread and the sense that the axe is just waiting to fall on someone.  Beyond Carell, Channing Tatum is perfectly cast as the proudly insecure Mark Schultz, and Mark Ruffalo equally so as the much more confident and comfortable-in-his-own-skin older brother Dave Schultz.  Tatum and Ruffalo absolutely look and act like they've been on wrestling mats their entire lives. 

Really good movie here, arguably the best yet from Bennett Miller which is saying something considering his brief but strong resume.  It's also strange that, in another universe, "eccentric billionaire played by Steve Carell decides to fund a wrestling team and takes a somewhat dim young wrestler played by Channing Tatum under his wing" is absolutely the setup for a hilarious comedy. 


"John Wick" is not a particularly good movie, though I'm a sucker for the particular action movie trope it used to great effect.  I love it when the hero is just such a badass that the villains literally say things like "Wait, we messed with WHO?!  Oh…no" and immediately start arming themselves as if they were preparing to face an entire army.  Frankly, it would've been fun to see this spread across the entire movie rather than just the first 25-30 minutes before Wick has some moments of fallibility. 


As a child of the 1990's, I was almost obliged to see "Dumb & Dumber To" but my god, could the commercials have made it harder on me?  Each ad proved to be more laugh-free than the last, and honestly, had it not been for a free film due to me on my Scene card, I might've skipped it.  I should've skipped it.  :(  You'll notice that the various ads and trailers exactly zero funny jokes, though I'm pleased to report that there were at least a few laughs throughout the entire film.  Four, to be exact --- one legitimately funny gag and three mild chuckles.  I laughed more than that during "The Number 23" and Jim Carrey wasn't even intending that to be a comedy.


On the flip side is "Fury," which was a familiar sort of WWII soldier story very solidly told.  You'll get your standard scenes of the rookie soldier being in over his head, the introductions of the mixed-bag tank crew, and yet the cliched "soldiers encounter civilians" scene was a real standout.  It goes for roughly 20 minutes, runs the gamut from comic relief to incredibly tense, and you never have any idea whatsoever where the scene is going.  Good performances all around from Brad Pitt, Logan Lerman, Jon Bernthal, Shia LaBeouf (yes really, LaBeouf was actually pretty good here!) and one of my favourite underrated actors, Michael Pena.  This guy will certainly have a slot in my next instalment of Actors Who Should Be More Famous.  Overall, "Fury" could've only been better had the final line between Lerman and Pitt had been "tanks for the memories."


I never read "Gone Girl," but from everything I've read about the book in the wake of the movie (and, specifically, several people's criticisms of the movie), it leaves the reader very unclear as to whether or not Nick is innocent or guilty.  The film could've achieved that same thing had they cut the one little line of Affleck saying "Amy?" when he returns to the house the first time.  That one line lets us know he didn't do it.  If he just walked in, saw the broken glass table, smash cut to the cops arriving, that keeps us up in the air about what's happening.

I think it's that one little scene that really affects how one views the film.  If you never open yourself up to the idea that Nick was a killer, you're automatically on his side the entire time, which makes David Fincher's film less an examination of male/female marriage dynamic and more "So I Married A Knife-Murderer."  This was an important distinction for me and, in my view, a flaw --- without the whodunit aspect, you're left with a movie that is rehashing some very tired satirical points about how the mass media operates.  So if you don't buy into the whodunit and (like me) you tend to roll your eyes at hackneyed "boy, TV really twists things around, man" talking points, then you're left with the cat and mouse dynamic between Amy and Nick.  Fortunately, this is so strong that it's enough to carry the film on it's own, and it'll help make GG worthwhile to watch on repeat viewings even after you know all of the twists.

A note about the ending, however, since while the Amy/Nick stuff was awesome, even that is slightly undone by the conclusion.  It gives in just a little too much to the movie's desire to be a cutting satire.  It's not nearly in the ballpark of Fincher's "The Game," a film that was 95% incredible and then completely undone by a travesty of an ending, yet I can't help but feel that GG could've somehow ended on a stronger note.  Perhaps I should read the book (y'know, at least check out the Wikipedia entry) to compare it with how Gillian Flynn ended things on the page, though since she also wrote the screenplay, you can't argue Fincher went against authorial intent.  

Don't get me wrong, GG is a very good, well-made and unsettling movie.  (I guess 'unsettling' is almost a given since it's a Fincher.)  I cannot say enough about Rosamund Pike's instant classic of a performance, and she is merely the headliner of an overall exceptional cast.  Between this film and 'The Leftovers,' 2014 might be the year of Carrie Coon.  Kim Dickens could, and should, get some Oscar consideration for turning a theoretically pretty standard role into a great supporting turn.  Tyler Perry goes some nice work here, which is a sentence I never thought I'd write.  And then you have Ben Affleck, an actor I've never really warmed to, yet who wisely turns into the skid by playing up his own image in Nick's skin.  Let's be honest, we can all easily picture Affleck wasting a day on the couch playing video games when he's supposed to be working, much to the consternation of Jennifer Garner/J-Lo/Matt Damon/etc.  You can completely buy Affleck as a lout, but well-meaning enough that he certainly doesn't deserve all of the crap that's foisted upon him in this movie (though again, the fact that the movie more or less makes you so clearly take Nick's side is a mistake, in my opinion).  

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