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Film Review: Foxcatcher

Channing Tatum & Steve Carell in Foxcatcher

Champion wrestler Mark Schultz (Channing Tatum) joins Team Foxcatcher led by multimillionaire sponsor John E. du Pont (Steve Carrell) as he trains for the 1988 Olympic games in Seoul – a union that leads to unlikely circumstances.

Olympic wrestling (not the uber camp scripted stuff) probably isn’t the most glamorous of sports in all honesty. Two men in big baby-grows and weird helmets rolling around on the floor whilst no-one is really sure of the rules isn’t exactly riveting stuff, which makes it all the more amazing just how absorbing Foxcatcher is.

But of course Foxcatcher isn’t really about wrestling. Naturally there are wrestling scenes dotted throughout the film, and some of them are superbly done, but the actual wrestling very much takes a back seat. Instead it’s the relationship between Mark and Du Pont and to a slightly lesser degree Mark’s brother Dave (Mark Ruffalo) that is the main focus.

Foxcatcher is a film that shouts the loudest during the very quietest of moments

This gives the film a much slower pace then it might otherwise have; so slow in fact that it might turn some people off to it, but it’s a film that shouts loudest during the very quietest of moments. Director Bennett Miller keeps everything very methodical and purposeful, rarely breaking out of walking pace, yet creating something wholly absorbing.

Much of this is down to the wonderful performance of Steve Carell as the creepy, menacing John Du Pont who, whilst being almost entirely deplorable, you just want to see more of and is totally engrossing when on screen. Everything about his demeanour is unsettling, from the way he walks to how he holds himself in conversation to how clearly uneasy he is around other people.

Steve Carell in Foxcatcher

Carell does, however, inject just enough vulnerability into the character, stopping him from becoming too one-note. The constant search for validation and acceptance from all those around him actually make Du Pont, at times, more accessible than his chilly exterior first allows.

Mark Ruffalo is also excellent as Dave Schultz, showing the caring and attentiveness Du Pont could only dream of from a member of his family, whilst Channing Tatum does what needs to be done but rarely anything more. Tatum gives us occasional glimpses of a more nuanced character, but is largely just a canvas on which Carell can work.

Mention should also go to Greig Fraser’s cinematography which is mercilessly foreboding and chilly with even the odd horror film inflection thrown in every now and again.

The story of Schultz and Du Pont is an odd one, and much has been made of the accuracy of the film in depicting the real-life events, largely by Mark Schultz himself. The homoerotic undertones may be disputed by Schultz but they’re subtle enough to add an extra layer of intrigue to the story and depth to the characters.

Whilst wrestling might not be everyone’s cup of tea, Foxcatcher is about so much more than that, and the central performances ensure an absorbing watch from start to finish regardless of your interest in the actual subject matter.

Pros

  • Brilliant performance by Steve Carell
  • Strong performance from Mark Ruffalo
  • Hugely effective cinematography

Cons

  • A little slow paced at times

4 and a half pigeons

4.5/5 pigeons

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Film Review – Anchorman 2: The Legend Continues

Ron Burgundy (Will Ferrell), along with his trusty news team Brian (Paul Rudd), Champ (David Koechner) and Brick (Steve Carell), are back and are about to become the face of a new televisual sensation – 24-hour rolling news. However, the course of good news never did run smooth…

Gone are the days when a simple trailer, a couple of posters and maybe a few press interviews would make up the entirety of a film’s marketing campaign. Now it often seems the case that more effort is actually put into the marketing than the film itself. Unfortunately that feels the case with Anchorman 2.

The backdrop of Anchorman 2 is the 1980s but it actually has something to say about the state of news today, and this is where it has more substance than the first film. It makes a comment on the way we are fed news but also how we consume it. Once upon a time, much of what we consider ‘news’ wouldn’t even be entertained in newsrooms, but it’s now become something for that very purpose – to entertain – and that’s the message at the core of Anchorman 2.

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But we’ve not come along for that, have we? We’ve come along for the jokes, which unfortunately are a very mixed bag. Now, the film does have some very funny moments, but too often does its jokes labour or miss the mark completely. What we get is jokes recycled from the first film or overplayed so that they no longer become funny. For example, Ron struggling to come to terms with having a black boss is amusing at first, but after the third or fourth instance, the joke gets a bit thin. There’s also an incredibly bizarre 20 minute section involving a lighthouse and a shark which just seems ridiculously out of place and consequently feels unnecessary.

But Anchorman 2 isn’t a disaster by any stretch of the imagination, and for fans there are plenty of laugh-out-loud moments. Brian showcasing his collection of condoms is a particular highlight, whilst Steve Carell’s Brick is still one of the funniest things about the whole film. There are also a couple of interesting new characters, namely Jack Marsden as young and stylish anchor Jack Lime, and Kristen Wiig’s Chani Lastnamé as a love interest for Brick.

Whether Anchorman 2 ever becomes as beloved as the original film remains to be seen, but there’s nothing here to convert those who aren’t already big fans of Ron et al. Even when the film isn’t working, there are still laughs to be had, but just like watching 24-hours news, it can start to feel a little stale all too quickly.

Pros

  • Interesting comment on the state of news
  • Very funny in places
  • Steve Carell’s Brick

Cons

  • Not as funny as it needs to be
  • Recycled jokes
  • Starts to feel a little long by the end

3 and a half pigeons3.5/5 pigeons

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Film Review: The Way Way Back

14-year-old Duncan (Liam James) goes on a summer holiday to Cape Cod with his mother (Toni Collette), overbearing step father (Steve Carell) and bitchy step sister. Not fitting in and feeling really rather miserable about everything, Duncan gets a job at a local waterpark where here meets Owen (Sam Rockwell), a senior worker at the park, whom he looks up to. Owen takes Duncan under his wing and helps him have the most important summer of his life.

Last year, Stephen Chbosky’s The Perks of Being a Wallflower was somewhat of a surprise hit and made it cool to be unpopular. It was filled with misfit teenagers who, over the course of the film, made some of the important steps from being a kid towards adulthood. The Way Way Back follows a similar ‘coming-of-age’ formula and looks set to repeat the success of Perks, largely thanks to some excellent performances from its (some familiar, some not so familiar) cast.

If you’re a fan of so-called coming-of-age films, then there’s a lot to like in The Way Way Back. All the hallmarks are there, which does give the film an air of predictability about it and it does suffer from slight over-sentimentality at times, although both these can be overlooked without too much effort. It’ll be easy for many to find something to relate to within the film, whether it be Duncan’s difficulty finding his own identity, summer romances, difficult step parents, or just having one of those summers you’ll never forget. This allows the film to be accessible to practically anyone.

However, it’s the performances that really elevate the film. Liam James is perfectly awkward as Duncan, echoing Logan Lerman’s performance in Perks. You can see him grow throughout the film, starting off as a shy, introverted child before slowly growing into a confident young man. Steve Carrell is also excellent as the simply infuriating Trent, Duncan’s step father, who has little to no time for his stepson, whilst Allison Janney is hilarious as their flirty, borderline alcoholic neighbour. It’s Sam Rockwell, though, who really steals the show as the carefree Owen. His dialogue is consistently sharp and quick-witted, with his delivery and timing nothing short of perfect. It’s not overly clear why Owen decides to befriend Duncan in particular, but their relationship works and is the backbone of the film.

The Way Way Back is most definitely a case where the whole is greater than the sum of its parts. On paper it’s pretty formulaic but played out on screen it’s heart warming and genuine. I wouldn’t be surprised if this sneaks onto some ‘best of’ lists come the end of the year.

4 pigeons

4/5 pigeons

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