Friday, November 21, 2014

 

Foxcatcher

Foxcatcher official site Have you ever feel the chill coming down your spine simply because somebody's presence? I bet you will experience that eerie sensation when you watch Steve Carell's exquisite performance in director Bennett Miller's intensely gripping thriller "Foxcatcher" (USA 2014 | 134 min.). This masterfully composed and outstandingly performed character-driven drama reenacts a bizarre true story which occurred decades ago. However, Steve Carell is anything but repeating himself when playing millionaire John du Pont. He transcends his well-established comedy domain and might earns himself an Oscar for his brilliant work.

Stone-faced Mark Schultz (Channing Tatum) and his caring brother Dave (Mark Ruffalo) are world-champion wrestlers. However, their winning of Gold Medals in the 1984 Olympics doesn't seem to change their life much. While Dave continues to coach wrestling to support his family, Mark is hanging on the poverty line day by day.

That situation is suddenly changed when Mark receives a call from one of American's wealthiest man—John du Pont (Steve Carell). John wants Mark to join the Team Foxcatcher at his extravagant estate where he imposes himself as the coach to train the team for the 1988 Olympics. Thirsty for vindication and eager for a new life out of the shadow of his brother Dave, Mark immediately jumps in and becomes John's loyal puppy.

But that unusual relationship doesn't last very long. The unpredictable and intimidating John decides to bring Dave on board as Team Foxcatcher's coach and discards Mark as his favorite. The trio's tango starts to step out of the daunting tune which is playing in their minds.

Foxcatcher Official Site

Winning the Best Director Award at this year's Cannes Film Festival, the director Bennett Miller brilliantly constructs and unfolds an incredible story, and meticulously stays focus on his characters. He composes each scene like a true master who is confidently striking each stroke on a huge canvas. With minimum effort, he is able to create the most intense atmosphere in the air and deepen the complexity of his characters. He never wastes time to explain some details of the story, either because the details lack the importance to the character development, or because the truth is simply unknown. The film clearly reflects his vision on how he wants to tell his story.

Steve Carell should take home an Oscar for his splendid performance as the creepy yet mysterious John du Pont. This well-known over-the-top funny comedian magically disappears in his chilling performance as a troubled soul. Nothing can be more frightening when he simply walks away without saying anything or when he blankly stares at you.

Channing Tatum and Mark Ruffalo are also exceptional in the film playing the Schultz brothers. Their wrestling movements are certainly convincing, but their acting off the wrestling mat is even more mesmerizing. It's heartbroken to see Channing Tatum has one only one brief smile in the entire film as Mark, as well as when Mark Ruffalo reluctantly spills out a few praising words about John. It's devastating to see how John can take advantage and manipulate the brothers with his wealth and his ego.

Without a doubt, Bennett Miller made one of the best films of the year, and Steve Carell shockingly reinvented himself.

"Foxcatcher," a Sony Pictures Classics release, opens on Friday, November 21, 2014 in San Francisco Bay Area.


Friday, November 14, 2014

 

The Theory of Everything

The Theory of Everything official site I am sure the memory about the recent ice-bucket-challenge frenzy is still quite fresh for everyone. However, I wonder how many actually know the purpose behind each bucket of wasted icy water—to raise money for combating amyotrophic lateral sclerosis (ALS, commonly known as Lou Gehrig's disease). The disease's best known public figure is perhaps the celebrated theoretical physicist Stephen Hawking. His extraordinary story is unfold in the director James Marsh's beautifully-made yet unsatisfying film "The Theory of Everything" (UK 2014 | 123 min.). There is no ice-bucket challenge in the film, but everyone will have a better understanding about the ALS disease and the most famous person who suffers from it.

The film opens in 1963 when Stephen Hawking (Eddie Redmayne) is a preppy 21-year-old PhD student at University of Cambridge studying cosmology. His nerdy and witty personality wins the heart of Jane Wilde (Felicity Jones). Stephen has an ambition to develop a theory that explains everything by a single mathematical equation. However, his bright future is shattered by a cruel reality: he has motor neuron disease which progressively destroys his mobility and he has only two years to live.

Neither Stephen nor Jane is willing to accept the sentence. They get married, build a family, and put up a fierce fight with the disease. Meanwhile, Stephen's academic career blossoms. Even he loses the ability to speak and move, with the aid of a special equipment, he makes significant contribution to the research in physics and writes a bestselling book called "A Brief History of Time". At the age of 72, he also outlives his death sentence for five decades.

The Theory of Everything Official Site

Stephen Hawking indeed leads a fascinating and productive life despite his devastating illness. Based on Stephen's first wife Jane's memoir, with a gorgeous lens and solid performance, Oscar-winning director James Marsh smoothly captures major events in Stephen's life, especially his marriage with Jane. He unfolds his story in the same fashion as Stephen writes about physics to a wider audience. That could be a double edged sword. While the film is easy for the mind to follow, it also appears mellow and lacks of climax and dramatic sparks.

Like many other films about scientists, science is trivialized and water down in the film. We never get to witness how Stephen conducts his research and derives complex mathematics formula when all he can do is touch the switch for the machine to generate a voice for him. Maybe he is exceptional genius that he accomplishes everything in his brilliant mind behind that pair of giant glasses frame without the need of scratch paper. If that's true, the film doesn't say either. The film also fails to explain why Stephen's work is significant in physics and takes his celebrity status for granted.

However, despite the film's shortcomings, the superb performances by Eddie Redmayne and Felicity Jones keep the film flowing nicely and present us a touching love story.

"The Theory of Everything," a Focus Features release, opens on Friday, November 14, 2014 in San Francisco Bay Area.


Friday, October 10, 2014

 

The Guest

The Guest official site People intend to be more vulnerable and trusting when they are grieving. But that might be just part of the reason for the Peterson family to take in an unexpected house guest in the director Adam Wingard's entertaining film "The Guest" (USA 2014 | 99 min.). Perhaps the main reason is that the film's main character, the polite yet mysterious guest, is simply hard to resist. This slickly packaged film perfectly delivers each twist and unleashes plenty over-the-top black comedy.

The guest is a handsome and soft-spoken David (Dan Stevens) who shows up at the Peterson family's front door. He claims to be a close soldier friend of the elder son Caleb who recently died in Afghanistan. He comes to tells Caleb's mom Laura (Sheila Kelley) that Caleb loved her. Laura quickly embraces David's visit and invites David to stay, and David gratefully accepts.

David doesn't just come to comfort Laura, he swiftly gains the trust from the dad Spencer (Leland Orser), helps the younger brother Luke (Brendan Meyer) fending off bullies in high school, and charms the sister Anna (Maika Monroe) to make a music CD for him. However, a few days later, David's pleasant visit takes a dramatic turn and things spins out of control.

The Guest Official Site

When the first music score bangs out the film's title, the viewer is cued that there will be violence even it might not get as bloody as in Quentin Tarantino's films. The director Adam Wingard shrewdly balances the amount of blood he spills and the level of suspense he builds. He doesn't make it a secret that his main character is not as innocent and nice as he appears to be, and the story won't be as calm as during the first half of the film. When all hell breaks loose in the second half of the film, the director seamlessly changes the film from a clever thriller to a laugh-out comedy.

It's remarkable that the film's seemingly far-fetched story is convincingly constructed and smoothly unfold. However, despite each mysterious move that David makes, the film doesn't lean to the direction in solving a complex puzzle. Instead, it's having a blast along with the viewers. It's both brilliant and hilarious when the film sets the last chapter at a Halloween maze. The familiar sound effect in a horror film becomes natural and comical, and the viewer no longer asks why David comes to the family at the first place.

Does this film stimulate any deep thought or provide any revelation about anything? Probably not. Will you have fun at the screening of this film with a group buddies? Absolutely.

"The Guest," a Picturehouse release, opens on Friday, October 10, 2014 in San Francisco Bay Area.


Friday, September 12, 2014

 

The Drop

The Drop official site If I were to name one actor who deserves an Oscar but has not even been nominated yet, that would be Tom Hardy, a robustly terrific and immensely talented working actor today. He magically disappears into each role he plays and brings the character to life. He should have been nominated for his outstanding performance in "Warrior" (2011). Let's hope when the award season comes, he won't be overlooked for his exceptional work in "Locke" (2013), or how he captures our attention from start to finish in Belgian director Michaël R. Roskam's suspensive gangster drama "The Drop" (USA 2014 | 105 min.). In this new film, he never raises his voice as a low-key bartender. But even when he mumbles, his words carry extraordinary weight and clearly convey his character's mind.

The film is set in New York City's Brooklyn. A friendly bartender Bob (Tom Hardy) works at a bar run by his savvy cousin Marv (James Gandolfini). Marv used to own the bar, but now it's owned by a Chechen mobster Chovka (Michael Aronov) and is occasionally used as "the drop" where dirty money converges secretly in concealed envelopes.

That certainly makes the water hole a robbery target for someone who dares to mess with the mobster Chovka. After one robbery took place, a few individuals including the laid-back Bob and sly Marv are under the watchful eyes of Detective Torres (John Ortiz). However, that robbery may be just a prelude to a bigger scheme which targets the drop.

Meanwhile, Bob rescues an abused little puppy in his neighbor Nadia's (Noomi Rapace) trash can. Because of the dog, he ends up not only having to deal with the mobsters, the detective, and body parts showing at the bar, but also confronting Nadia's frightening ex-boyfriend Eric Deeds (Matthias Schoenaerts).

The Drop Official Site

Based on writer Dennis Lehane's short story, the film's plot is relatively typical for a gangster genre and sometimes it's even confusing. For example, what's the content of the file which the detective reads in a car? The film never explains. The film also lacks the excitement of a grand climax. However, the terrific performance, particularly by Tom Hardy, makes the film gripping and entertaining.

Like any film about mobsters, violence is inevitable. Yet, the film manages to keep it to a minimum without compromising the thrilling effect. It smartly establishes an atmosphere that is both dangerous and suspensive with little blood.

Bob, the passive nice guy, appears to be easy going and avoids troubles when he can, but you can sense from Tom Hardy's expressive eyes that he takes notice about everything surrounding him. Obviously, he is not a typical bartender, and he is more observant to say the least. His intelligence, good nature, and likable personality is smoothly unveiled as the plots unfolds.

This is James Gandolfini's last film before his sudden death. Although the film is centered at Bob, James Gandolfini gave a memorable and solid performance that reminds us what a great actor he was. The fine performance by Tom Hardy and James Gandolfini is enough to make this film to be satisfying.

"The Drop," a Fox Searchlight Pictures release, opens on Friday, September 12, 2014 in San Francisco Bay Area.



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