Under the Skin-2013

Under the Skin-2013

Director-Jonathan Glazer

Starring-Scarlett Johansson

Scott’s Review #219


Reviewed January 31, 2015

Grade: A

Under the Skin is a tough film to review- in a word it is mysterious.

The consensus is that people either love the film or hate it- it is one of those types of films. I love it and it appears on many 2013 top 10 film lists.

The visual creativity alone astounds me.

To summarize, Scarlett Johansson plays the female alien presumably sent to Earth to meet young men and lure them, using her feminine wiles, into a pool of dark liquid where they are entrapped and subsequently peeled, their skin used for an unknown reason. The oddity of the story is as appealing as it is confusing, but somehow fascinating beyond belief.

The film is set in Glasgow, Scotland, during present times. The film has a cold, dark tone to it and the city itself seems bleak.

Johansson, in an unnamed role, takes the clothes of a dead human woman and begins traversing the streets of Glasgow, picking up the men as they walk home or go to the grocery store. She carefully selects men who will not be missed- men who are loners or family-less.

As the film goes along Johansson becomes more sympathetic. She yearns to become a human and to do what humans do- she goes to a diner and attempts to eat a delicious slice of cake and vomits the contents. She has a strange man on a motorcycle following her, making sure she completes her assigned tasks. Some of these conclusions are surmised as the lack of dialogue in the film adds to the mystique.

A particularly frightening scene, and my favorite in the film, involves the female alien meeting a swimmer on the beach, who is on holiday in Scotland. Her flirtation with him as she attempts to accost him is thwarted by a family in peril. A father, mother, and infant son are enjoying a day on the secluded beach.

Suddenly, their dog begins to drown as the waves become too intense. The mother struggles in a panic to swim to the dog and rescue it- the father then does the same. What happens next is very sad and the female alien and the motorcycle man both leave the screaming infant to die without so much as a second glance.

This poses a few questions- are they, aliens, without emotions for human suffering? Do they not care? Do they revel in the misery? Do they simply not realize what is going on? The viewer will ponder these questions and others long after the film ends.

Later, the audience is confused further as the female alien meets a severely deformed man, and they bond as she drives him to, presumably, his death. She loves his hands and is fascinated by his tenderness towards her. As they talk she shows signs of caring for a human being as they begin a sweet friendship of sorts.

Why does she bond with this disfigured man instead of the more handsome men she meets? Does she in some way relate to him due to her growing feelings of being a misfit and desiring to be human? One wonders.

Visually the film is creative. Spellbinding is the sequence involving the men being submerged in the black fluid as they slowly disappear leaving only the skin. Their transformation is slow, methodical, and imaginative and one relishes what is going on.

The score is reminiscent of Rosemary’s Baby in its eeriness and visually the film must have been influenced by Stanley Kubrick’s 2001: A Space Odyssey.

Under the Skin is a fantastic journey through a weird, perplexing, sometimes confusing world, but at all times leaves me thinking and glued to the activity onscreen. It is an art film that breaks barriers and provokes interest and intrigue not catering to mainstream expectations. It is what art films are meant to do- challenge. More films should take risks like these.

Independent Spirit Award Nominations: Best International Film

Once Upon a Time in America-1984

Once Upon a Time in America-1984

Director-Sergio Leone

Starring-Robert De Niro, James Woods

Scott’s Review #218


Reviewed January 19, 2015

Grade: A

An epic film, the extended directors cut at more than four hours in length, 1984’s Once Upon a Time in America is a film directed by Sergio Leone, who also directed the 1968 masterpiece Once Upon a Time in the West and numerous other westerns starring Clint Eastwood.

This particular film is in a different vein and not to be confused as any sort of sequel or related to the aforementioned film- this time Leone explores the crime drama genre rather than the western and does so in remarkable fashion.

The film tells the story of a group of Jewish friends who become involved in organized crime during the 1920s in New York City.

The main story is told via flashbacks as the central character, Noodles, played by Robert De Niro, returns to Brooklyn thirty years later to reunite with his former mobster friends.

In this way, the film is sectioned- the group of youngsters and kids and the same characters as adults.

Once Upon a Time in America has been met with much controversy since it was made. At the time of its release, the film was butchered as over an hour of footage was cut by the studio heads making the film largely uneven.

Fortunately, the restored version, at over three hours in length, is available for viewing. Furthermorethe director cut clocks in at well over four hours and is the best version to watch. Due to so many cuts, other versions appear shoddy and out of order making the viewing experience difficult.

Once Upon a Time in America is largely underappreciated except for the die-hard cinema lovers most patient with the film, and deserves mention as an excellent crime epic drama.

The film contains many similarities to The Godfather and The Godfather Part II and the role De Niro plays is not too different from Vito Corleone in Part II.

However, the greatest contrast is that Once Upon a Time in America is more visually artistic than The Godfather films.

The film centers mainly on Noodle’s perspective as he enjoys youth in the Lower East Side of Manhattan where he meets his group of lifelong friends.

The focal point is his friendship with Max, the adult character played by James Woods, and his undying love for Deborah, played by Elizabeth McGovern as an adult.

As kids, they are worry-free, but gradually fall in with a group of older mobsters, first doing their dirty work, followed by venturing out on their own.

The themes of the film are loyalty, childhood friendship, betrayal, and greed as all of the characters change (or die) in the time that the film takes place.

When a mysterious letter forces Noodles to resurface in Brooklyn, we begin to understand the back story and the history between the friends as layers are slowly peeled back.

The film drags slightly in the middle section, but the first part and last part are very well made and absorbing.

Leone has a way of pacing the film that works- it is methodical, nuanced, with wonderful set pieces and each period explored- 1920’s, 1930’s, and 1960’s seem equally as authentic as the next one does.

I especially enjoyed the 1920’s art direction- it revealed such a state of genuineness and felt like truly being there in that period.

The relationship between Noodles and Deborah is an interesting one worth mentioning. Falling in love as youngsters (when Deborah was played by a very young Jennifer Connelly) they had an innocent, puppy love relationship.

As adults, due to a violent, disgraceful act, their tender relationship is subsequently ruined and one might argue one of the characters turns quite unsympathetic.

Once Upon a Time in America is a sprawling epic film sure to be enjoyed by intelligent fans of the crime epic drama genre and specifically Sergio Leone fans- an underappreciated gem.



Director-Richard Linklater

Starring-Ellar Coltrane, Ethan Hawke

Scott’s Review #217


Reviewed January 19, 2015

Grade: A

Boyhood is a family drama directed by Richard Linklater that tells the story of a family’s trials and tribulations over twelve years, ranging from approximately 2002-2013.

The film uses the same actors over the entire period which enables the viewer to see the characters change over that period. What a novel idea? In this day and age of special effects, super-heroes, and animated animals, how refreshing to see a simple tale of a family told over a while.

The film’s main character is Mason Evans, Jr. played by Ellar Coltrane. We are introduced to Mason when he is six years old and in the first grade. He lives with his older sister Samantha, played by the director’s daughter Lorelei Linklater, and his mother Olivia, played by Patricia Arquette, in Texas. Mason’s father (Mason Sr.) is played by Ethan Hawke, who is divorced from Olivia.

As the years go by we see situations arise and the characters grow and develop over time similar to real-life.

After the film, Mason Jr. is headed off to college following years of life experience including his first relationship. The other characters develop as well as we see Olivia and Mason Sr. delve into relationships with other partners, some successful, others less successful.

Where Boyhood succeeds is that it is a film about real-life that feels like a slice of Americana.

It’s a wonderful film.

The audience invests in the characters because we grow to love and care about their lives. It is comparable to seeing cousins or friends once a year and seeing what becomes of their lives over time.

This film fascinates me because it is so basic and so real that it does not need contrived dramatic situations to warrant attention. It is simply authentic and that is what makes a great film.

The film is certainly left-leaning politically speaking and I just love the current events that are brought up throughout the years by the family members.

As the film progresses we are treated to Mason Sr. commenting on his distaste of the Iraq war, the children’s anticipation of the new Harry Potter film, Mason Sr. taking the kids to a Houston Astros game, and The Beatles and Star Wars are mentioned.

Another scene sadly focuses on a returning soldier from Iraq who suffers from Post-traumatic stress disorder. These nuances make the film seem so authentic and rich.

As wonderful a job as Patricia Arquette and Ethan Hawke did neither of them had a huge, bombastic, emotional scene which would have been splendid given the talents of each, but this is a small criticism. Both are superb as struggling parents trying to do the right thing for their children as well as carve out a life for themselves.

Boyhood re-defines realism in the film as we see a family unit hope, struggle, and dream as it’s played out before our eyes.

The film does not need any overwrought dramatics as it is simply a slice of life of a group of people we come to know and love.

Everyone can relate to Boyhood.

Oscar Nominations: Best Picture, Best Director-Richard Linklater, Best Supporting Actor-Ethan Hawke, Best Supporting Actress-Patricia Arquette (won), Best Original Screenplay, Best Film Editing

Independent Spirit Award Nominations: Best Feature, Best Director-Richard Linklater (won), Best Supporting Male-Ethan Hawke, Best Supporting Female-Patricia Arquette (won), Best Editing

Big Eyes-2014

Big Eyes-2014

Director-Tim Burton

Starring-Amy Adams, Christoph Waltz

Scott’s Review #216


Reviewed January 18, 2015

Grade: B

Big Eyes tells the true story of Margaret Keane, a talented artist, famous for the “big eyes” waif collection, whose husband manipulated her and took credit for her works during the 1950s and 1960s.

A con artist, he passed himself off as a talented artist, but in truth, he scammed other artists and had no artistic talent of his own. He was also mentally unstable.

Due to his charisma and ability to wine and dine, influential people, combined with his marketing talents, he was able to make millions in profits from his wife’s art.

Amy Adams and Christoph Waltz portray Margaret and Walter Keane.

Tim Burton directs the film.

Adams and Waltz are the main appeals in this film. They share tremendous chemistry, both when they are courting one another and subsequently when they despise each other and fight a bitter divorce battle in court over the rights to Margaret’s paintings.

I just love Christoph Waltz in whatever he appears in as his charisma and acting ability astound me. Adams is quite effective and believable as the passive, loyal, and talented Margaret Keane.

As compelling performance as Adams gives, one issue I have with the film is that I do not feel as sympathetic towards Margaret Keane as the film probably intended.

Certainly, I like the character very much and was rooting for her in the courthouse scenes to be awarded rights to her paintings and cheered when she escaped to Hawaii with her daughter to begin a new life.

But, she willingly went along with her husband’s plot, as they both decided a female artist would not sell like a man could (it was the 1950’s), and they were able to make millions from her art. They lived in a gorgeous house, had wonderful dinners, and were able to maintain an extravagant lifestyle- not so bad.

It was not as if Walter stole all of her money and left her homeless. She enjoyed a nice lifestyle.

So, my sympathy for her was affected.

A positive of Big Eyes is how Margaret continues to uncover Walter’s deceptions one by one. She first learns he has taken credit for her work- she then finds out that he is not even an artist and has conned another painter into giving Walter credit for their work. The buildup to these reveals is excellent.

The film is a change of pace for Tim Burton. Big Eyes is not a dark film and is quite bright and colorful. Some of the interesting sets and art direction are similar to some of his other works- Edward Scissorhands and Beetlejuice.

Big Eyes is an enjoyable film largely made successful by the talents and appeal of its two stars.

Independent Spirit Award Nominations: Best Screenplay



Director-Matthew Warchus

Starring-Bill Nighy, Imelda Staunton

Scott’s Review #215


Reviewed January 17, 2015

Grade: B-

Pride, based on a true story, deserves props for delivering a nice message about inclusion and groups of vastly different people coming together as human beings, but while it is a nice film, the filmmakers play it a bit too safe and it has a definite formulaic feel to it.

Surely, the real story of Pride was not as simplistic as this film felt at times.

The setting is 1984 England where a group of British miners goes on strike in a dispute over wages. A group named Lesbians and Gays Support the Miners made up of gay men and women develop an interest in the strike and decide to help the miners and families.

Why they decide to take on this cause is not fully explained- they just do. The National Union of Mineworkers is hesitant to accept funds as they worry about the publicity caused by a group thought to be perverts.

The film is certainly riddled with clichés- the macho miners resist the help from the gays- many of whom are portrayed as effeminate. The characters who are lesbians look as though the filmmakers wanted to “butch them up”, thereby overdoing the stereotype.

There is a subplot of one gay young man who has not come out to his parents- a well-to-do, pretentious couple. When inevitably the truth is revealed, the parents are angry and turn their backs on the teen. He leaves home to join the gays and lesbians who accept him into their lives with open arms.

The prudish, female head of the committee is homophobic and vows to do everything in her power to make sure the gay and lesbian group does not succeed in aligning with the miners.

These clichés seemed way overdone for the sake of making the film more dramatic. Some of the characters, therefore, come across as one-dimensional.

Even the story revolving around a character with AIDS seems watered down and soft.

On the plus side, the casting of the brilliant Imelda Staunton as the sympathetic, maternal, Hefina is a plus.

A huge supporter of gays and lesbians she comically befriends all of them and is curious about their lifestyles. Bill Nighy is also excellent as Cliff, the older miner who turns out to be gay himself.

Margaret Thatcher, Prime Minister at the time, is presented as greedy and selfish with little regard or use for the miners or labor unions.

Pride is an earnest, sentimental, feel-good film that deserves adoration for the coming together of different communities.

I would have liked to see more risks taken by the film to perhaps obtain a darker edge to it.

The Poseidon Adventure-1972

The Poseidon Adventure-1972

Director-Ronald Neame

Starring-Gene Hackman, Ernest Borgnine, Shelley Winters

Top 100 Films-#12

Scott’s Review #214


Reviewed January 17, 2015

Grade: A

The disaster genre, mainly encompassing the 1970’s in film, includes some of my personal favorite films of all time and The Poseidon Adventure is easily at the top of the pile. Set on a lavish ocean liner, the SS Poseidon, on New Year’s Eve, the doomed ship falls victim to a powerful tsunami while sailing from New York to Athens on its final voyage, causing it to topple over and leaving a handful of survivors to meander through the bowels of the ship in an attempt to find a way out and be rescued. They are led by a stubborn preacher, played by Gene Hackman.

The appeal of The Poseidon Adventure is, of course, watching the cast of characters in peril and guessing which ones will meet their fates and how- think a slasher film without the horror component. Featuring an ensemble cast of Hollywood celebs of the day, the characters are introduced to the audience before the tidal wave erupts, so therefore we care for them immensely.

There is the former hooker with the heart of gold married to a gruff cop (Stella Stevens and Ernest Borgnine as Mike and Linda Rogo). Then there is the sweet-natured older couple on the cruise to see their grandchild (Shelley Winters and Jack Albertson as Manny and Belle Rosen). Pamela Sue Martin plays the teen girl, Susan, who falls madly in love with the preacher- Reverend Scott. Along with her younger brother, Robin, they are traveling to see their parents, who await their arrival.

Roddy McDowall plays a waiter named Acres. Lastly, Red Buttons plays James Martin, a health-conscious bachelor and Carol Lynley plays shy singer Nonnie. Reverend Scott is the moral focal point of the film and questions god several times throughout.

The sets are extraordinary- the colorful Christmas tree in the grand dining room is fantastic. In fact, the entire New Year’s Eve party scene is my favorite- it is festive, extravagant, and mixed in with a scene where the ominous tsunami is rapidly approaching.

The festive celebration quickly turns into confusion as the sirens begin to sound, and finally panic as furniture begins to fly. Visually this scene is the most intricate- the ship turns upside down after the crash, thus giving the illusion that the bottom of the ship is the top. Tricky. From this point on all of the sets to follow are actually intended to be upside down- a crafty and effective style, but none more than the dining room scene. A victim toppling and crashing into a giant clock is a memorable scene.

As the group of survivors haggardly make their way throughout the ship they encounter underwater explosions, dead bodies, rushing water, and disputes, mainly between Reverend Scott and Rogo, as to how to proceed to safety. One by one a handful of the group meets their fates in gruesome fashion- falling into a fire, a heart attack, and falling to one’s death.

Shelley Winters is the comic relief of the film with her humorous quips about her weight, and her death scene brings me to tears each time I experience it. A heavyset older woman who at one time was a dynamite high school swimmer, she attempts to help the group by holding her breath and swimming underneath the engine room, which is blocked- she does inevitably save the Reverend Scott’s life but succumbs to a heart attack shortly thereafter. It is a powerful, heartbreaking scene.

The film is a great adventure. What makes The Poseidon Adventure so timeless and continues to bring so much pleasure? Certainly not high-brow nor high art, but it does not need to be. It is simply meant to be enjoyed for what it is- a thrilling, fun, entertaining ride.

Oscar Nominations: Best Supporting Actress-Shelley Winters, Best Song Original for the Picture-“The Morning After” (won), Best Original Dramatic Score, Best Costume Design, Best Sound, Best Art Direction, Best Cinematography, Best Film Editing

The Imitation Game-2014

The Imitation Game-2014

Director-Morten Tyldum

Starring-Benedict Cumberbatch, Keira Knightley

Scott’s Review #213


Reviewed January 15, 2015

Grade: A

The Imitation Game tells the story of Alan Turing, a confident and brilliant British mathematician who was responsible for cracking Nazi Germany’s Enigma code, which led to the Allied forces winning World War II.

The film also delves into Turing’s complex and sad personal life and the audience grows to know his upbringing largely told via flashbacks as a small boy at boarding school.

The film is tragic yet wonderfully made and is a powerful viewing experience in human storytelling.

The film has two aspects going on. The first is the hiring of Turing by the Government Code and Cypher School at Bletchley Park to crack the code and the numerous struggles faced in accomplishing this feat.

Turing is not an easy-going man- he is arrogant, quick-witted, and even smug. However, through his friendship with Joan (Keira Knightley), an intelligent woman on the team of scholars, we see a human side to him as they forge a lifelong bond.

The other is of his personal life which is a bit more mysterious and comes more into play during the second half of the film. Keeping a secret about his personal life- he is homosexual, which in the time the film is set (1940’s England), is illegal. Alan and Joan agree to marry, in large part to appease her parents, but circumstances change these plans.

Benedict Cumberbatch, who portrays Turning, deserves heaps of praise for his impressive portrayal. He successfully gives depth and a wide range of emotions to the character. He begins as a self-centered man, but becomes layered, guarded, and protective due to his private life of which he is forced to hide a great deal.

Keira Knightley’s character gives support to Cumberbatch’s character of Alan as she becomes engaged to him and later in life becomes his biggest champion. Her character, besides being quite intelligent, is also kind and giving.

The ending of the film will give the viewer many tears and cause to think of the enormity of World War II in terms of the vast amount of casualties. The facts listed just before the credits roll are awe-inspiring and gut-wrenching.

The Imitation Game is not a war movie per se as it does not deal with battle scenes. It is more of a drama dealing with the effects of war and many figures are presented and some of the characters are affected in a second-hand way.

For instance, in one scene, the group (led by Turing) must make a heartbreaking decision not to stop an impending attack, which will cause many deaths- including a character’s brother- instead of choosing to keep mum to save thousands more. It is a powerful scene.

The film successfully and heartbreakingly tells a story of a heroic figure who received no accolades while he was living, instead of being ostracized, and not until posthumously, did he receive his due.

Sadly, this was too little too late.

Oscar Nominations: Best Picture, Best Director-Morten Tyldum, Best Actor-Benedict Cumberbatch, Best Supporting Actress-Keira Knightley, Best Adapted Screenplay (won), Best Original Score, Best Production Design, Best Film Editing

The Conformist-1970

The Conformist-1970

Director-Bernardo Bertolucci

Starring-Jean-Louis Trintignant, Stefania Sandrelli

Top 100 Films-#28

Scott’s Review #212


Reviewed January 10, 2015

Grade: A

The Conformist, directed by Italian director Bernardo Bertolucci and based on the 1950’s novel by Alberto Moravia, is a complex film that tells the story of one man’s complicated life throughout the time of Italian Fascism (the 1920s until 1943).

Due to a traumatic childhood event, he is troubled and strives to “conform” to a “normal”, traditional lifestyle despite his underlying wounds and desires, which he struggled to repress.

The character in question is Marcello Clerici, played by Jean-Louis Trintignant, who works for the secret police supporting the Fascist government.

Marcello yearns for a quiet life that everyone else seems to have. He is set up with a beautiful new wife and is ordered to assassinate his college professor who is a leader of an anti-Fascist party.

Throughout the story, Marcello is tormented, via flashbacks, by his troubled childhood and the film delivers a marvelous, creative use of camera angles, style, and design.

It is a dreamlike film that makes full use of childhood memories from the perspective of the protagonist.

The film is a character study in the highest regard yet is also beautiful to look at making it very multi-faceted. Marcello is troubled as evidenced by his backstory. In many ways he is weak, refusing to accept who he is or admit his deepest desires.

Mixed in with the complexity of his character is a unique character named Anna (Dominique Sanda), the college professor’s gorgeous blonde wife who appears to be bisexual, enticing both Marcello and his wife, Giulia, played by Stefania Sandrelli. Marcello, in particular, becomes transfixed and obsessed with Anna.

A truly heartbreaking moment arrives later in the film and is my favorite scene in The Conformist. As the assassination attempt is made on a lonely and secluded, yet picturesque country road, the result is murder, betrayal, and surprise.

When one character non-verbally speaks to another with mostly facial expressions and emotionally and pathetically pleads for their life through a car window it is as tragic as it is poetic.

The scene is wrought with drama and sadness.

Additionally, Marcello’s troubled childhood involving a homosexual experience involving a chauffeur named Lino resurfaces years later in an unlikely way and leads to the shocking conclusion of the film.

The very last frame of the film leaves the viewer pondering what is to become of Marcello next.

Marcello’s mother and father add mysterious layers to the film. His father is securely an inmate in a mental hospital while his mother is a boozy older woman who sleeps until noon.

While these characters are not explored as completely as they might have been, it does lead one to ponder why Marcello is the way that he is and if his parents have any bearing on his persona.

In a particularly fascinating scene, Anna seductively dances with Marcello’s wife at a crowded dancehall, they do the tango, as amidst her affair with Marcello, she is clearly in love with his wife, making the dynamic confusing yet at the same time fascinating to view.

The Conformist heavily influenced storied directors such as Frances Ford Coppola, Martin Scorsese, and Steven Spielberg. A beautiful scene of leaves blowing in the wind almost mirrors a similar scene contained in Coppola’s The Godfather Part II.

A film that is as captivating as it is filled with influence, The Conformist is an interesting watch for both the style and the mystique that surrounds it.

Oscar Nominations: Best Screenplay Based on Material from Another Medium

Barry Lyndon-1975

Barry Lyndon-1975

Director-Stanley Kubrick

Starring-Ryan O’Neal

Top 100 Films-#34

Scott’s Review #211


Reviewed January 4, 2015

Grade: A

Barry Lyndon is a sprawling, beautiful film by famed director Stanley Kubrick. The film is set in the 18th century. Extremely slow-paced, yet mesmerizing, every shot looks like a portrait, and the inventive use of lighting via real candlelight in certain scenes makes this film a spectacle in its subdued beauty, to say nothing of the gorgeous sets and costumes. The film is nothing short of a marvel to view.

The story centers around Ryan O’Neal, who plays an Irish man named Redmond Barry. Redmond is a poor Irish man but is an opportunist. The film follows his life travels throughout Ireland, England, and Germany, as he becomes involved in duels, is robbed, impersonates an officer, is reduced to becoming a servant, gambles, marries a rich widow, and feuds with his stepson.

When he woos and marries the wealthy Countess of Lyndon, he settles in England to enjoy a life of wealth and sophistication. He changes his name to Barry Lyndon. His ten-year-old stepson, Lord Bullingdon, becomes a lifelong enemy as their hatred for each other escalates and is the focal point of Act II of the film.

The supporting cast is filled with unique characters and in particular, the three sinister characters (Lord Bullingdon, Mother Barry, and Reverend Runt) are delicious to watch especially when they square off against one another as is the case with Runt and Mother Barry.

Barry’s two love interests (Lady Lyndon and a German war widow) are entertaining to watch and Lady Lyndon’s costumes are exquisite. Furthermore, Chevalier de Balibar, a wealthy gambler who takes Barry under his wing is a delight. As with many masterpieces, if not for the great casting, the film would not be as wonderful.

My three favorite scenes include the vicious confrontation between Mother Barry and Reverend Runt- an initially polite conversation between two selfish characters gradually spins into viciousness, the duel between Barry Lyndon and Lord Bullingdon- bitter rivals square off in an awkward yet dramatic duel, and when Barry passionately kisses his dying friend- an unexpected homoerotic scene.

Barry Lyndon delves into the issue of class and class distinction and clearly defines the haves and the have-nots and the struggles of the poor to obtain wealth at any means and for the wealthy to retain their good fortunes.

At a running time of over three hours, it may initially turn viewers off, but as time goes on the film will grip hold of the viewer and not let go. Having now seen Barry Lyndon four times, each time I enjoy the film more and more as I become more absorbed by and immersed in the masterpiece. It’s like a fine wine- it gets better with each taste.

Oscar Nominations: Best Picture, Best Director-Stanley Kubrick, Best Screenplay Adapted from Other Material, Best Scoring: Original Song Score and Adaptation or Scoring: Adaptation (won), Best Costume Design (won), Best Art Direction (won), Best Cinematography (won)



Director-Bennett Miller

Starring Steve Carell, Channing Tatum

Scott’s Review #210


Reviewed January 2, 2015

Grade: A

Foxcatcher is a dark, disturbing, psychological thriller that achieves greatness based on its bleak look and great acting.

It is a superb character-driven story, based on true events, led by the talents of actors Steve Carrell, Channing Tatum, and Mark Ruffalo, each of whom gives an excellent performance. It is a sports film, but hardly predictable as many in this genre typically are.

The film is set in 1987. Brothers Mark and Dave Schultz (Tatum and Ruffalo respectively) are former Olympic gold medal-winning wrestlers attempting to compete in the upcoming 1988 Olympic competitions.

Despite having won a gold medal, Mark lives in squalor and is reduced to giving pep rallies at elementary schools- meant to be done by Dave- for very little money. Dave is the more successful brother- a family man living a happy existence. He is more talented than Mark and very driven. One day Mark is contacted by wealthy philanthropist John du Pont (Carrell) and invited to live with him at his expansive estate in Pennsylvania and train in his facility with other aspiring Olympic wrestlers.

John’s attempts at wooing Dave as well initially fail. From this point in the story, the film delves into psychologically dark territory, mainly the controlling, disturbing behavior of John, as he attempts to control Mark and woo Dave. John has a damaged relationship with his mother, Jean, wonderfully played by Vanessa Redgrave, in a small yet crucial role. Jean feels that John’s obsession with the wrestling world is far beneath him and their relationship is tense and unloving.

The three principal actors involved in the film are worthy of discussion as without these performances the film would not be as complex or compelling. Let’s begin with Channing Tatum- known primarily as a hunky movie star with questionable acting ability, he proves the naysayers wrong.

I cannot help but compare him to a younger Brad Pitt- it took years and many films for him to be recognized as more than a pretty face and abs to die for.

His performance is understated and calm, but nuanced in his laid-back demeanor. Sometimes anger bubbles under the surface.

Carrell is downright creepy as the affluent yet insecure Du Pont.

Throughout the film, the character just seems off somehow. Known mostly for silly comedies he is a breakout performance that, I hope, leads to similar meaty roles. Carrell shows he has what it takes to appear in quality films.

Lastly, Mark Ruffalo, who always plays interesting, everyman type characters, again emits much emotion from his character of Dave Schultz, a successful, driven, athlete who is also a dedicated husband and father.

With lesser casting, Foxcatcher would not have been as interesting.

Questions at the end of the film will arise- What were John du Pont’s motivations? What effect did his mother have on his actions? How could a man with all his power and wealth end up this sad? Were there inappropriate sexual overtures made towards the wrestlers by John?

Foxcatcher excels at portraying a dark, layered, moody, true story and teaches that wealth does not equate to happiness and in many instances, quite the contrary occurs. Foxcatcher is an immense success.

Oscar Nominations: Best Director-Bennett Miller, Best Actor-Steve Carell, Best Supporting Actor-Mark Ruffalo, Best Original Screenplay, Best Makeup and Hairstyling

Independent Spirit Award Nominations: Special Distinction Award (won)