Sunday, March 08, 2015

Foxcatcher

During high school in the early 1980s, that dark period in human history just prior to the modern Information Age, we kids spent a lot of time sitting around and talking.

Seriously, Millennials. It's true.

My friend Jamie and I dated sisters. We spent a lot of time together at their house and pretended to talk to each other, even though our true motivations were focused elsewhere.  Our conversations were superficial, themed mostly on sports and girls. Jamie was a high school wrestler. I wasn't.

We had little in common other than really liking sisters.

Most days, during lulls in our conversation, Jamie would say: "Let me put you in a banana split." I'd refuse the offer, for several reasons. One of the most important reasons is because the amateur wrestling move known as the "banana split" looks like this:


Despite my "no, thanks," Jamie would laugh, jump on top of me, and contort my body into shapes not intended by intelligent design. After only a few seconds I'd tap out. Jamie and his girlfriend would laugh, and I'd pretend not to me embarrassed.

Wrestlers don't seem to mind physical intimacy. Many, I think, seek it out.

Foxcatcher, directed by Bennett Miller, is really a movie about physical intimacy. Wrestlers in the movie compete with a physical intimacy that's comparable to ballroom dance -- early scenes of the Schultz brothers practicing basic moves on each other demonstrate the grace and elegance of highly trained athletes. John du Pont (the role that will transform Steve Carell's career) longs for physical intimacy with his mother and the wrestlers he recruits, but doesn't understand how to achieve either. And it was an act of physical intimacy -- the moment when du Pont slapped the face of wrestler Mark Schultz -- that dramatically and forever altered the lives of all three main characters.

I enjoyed Foxcatcher for the brilliant acting of the main cast. The tragic real-life story, however, made me feel so uncomfortable and ill-at-ease I wanted to tap out.

Again.

Sunday, February 22, 2015

The Oscars: 2015 Predictions

2014 was a stellar year for cinema. There was artistry (Birdman, The Grand Budapest Hotel), thrilling action (American Sniper), and emotion (Selma, The Theory of Everything).  Movie fare was so good, in fact, it inspired The Film Geek to talk about flicks again on his blog.

A blog in 2015? You mean, it's possible to comment on topics with more than 140 letter characters?

The 87th Academy Awards will be held tonight, and I'll be watching. Hell, we'll all be watching, because it was that good of a year in film. Here are Predictions From The Film Geek:

Best Picture:  Boyhood. The phenomenal success of the movie makes me wanna predict American Sniper as the winner in this category. But I'm going with Boyhood. Richard Linklater's film is an historical achievement: a compelling story told with beautiful simplicity.

Best Director:  Richard Linklater. For Boyhood, Linklater was forced to direct actors during various times of their lives, a task more complicated that it might sound.  During the 12-years of filming, each actor underwent physical, emotional, and psychological changes --Ellar Coletrain at six years of age needs  different direction than Ellar Coletrain at eighteen. These changes undoubtedly required direction to be constantly re-invented.

Best Male Actor: Eddie Redmayne. Bradley Cooper shocked me with his uncanny performance in American Sniper. He could play spoiler in this category. But Redmayne's performance in The Theory of Everything was spirited, subtle, and complex. That's the exact formula for an Academy Award win.

Best Female Actor: Julianne Moore. I haven't yet seen Still Alice, but I would never bet against Moore any time she's on the list. She is a force.

Best Male Actor in a Supporting Role: Edward Norton. Norton's work was the best part of Birdman, in my opinion. At least it was the only part of the film I enjoyed.

Best Female Actor in a Supporting Role: Patricia Arquette. She's head and shoulders above everyone else listed in this category.



Saturday, February 21, 2015

The Theory Of Everything

I don't recall when I first became aware of Dr. Stephen Hawking. Maybe it was in the late 1980s, when he first published A Brief History of Time. It was likely a bit later, however, as I tend to discover grand works of science and art later than most.

I'm too busy reading comic books, you know.

It feels as though Hawking has always been around. Always been a part of the popular culture. Always been a part of my life. But aside from knowing he's brilliant, that he lives with ALS, and that he digs black holes, I've known little about the man.

Until now.

The Theory Of Everything, directed by James Marsh and starring Eddie Redmayne, gives some insight into the brilliant mind of Hawking. The beauty of the flick, however, is that it allows the audience an intimate look into Hawking's resilient soul.  Sure, we know the dude is smart; what we didn't know was how he defied odds with dignity and grace, and that he lived his life with a hopeful determination.

Redmayne is brilliant in the lead role. He gives a blue-collar feel to Hawking as an intellectual youth, and an obvious humanity to the older Hawking as his body becomes fixed and rigid, and as he re-learns to communicate.

I predict an Oscar for Redmayne. His is the performance of a lifetime.

Tuesday, February 17, 2015

Birdman

Hoping to catch most of the Oscar nominated flicks prior to the February 22 red carpet, I purchased a digital copy of Birdman on the first evening it became available.

I'm now forever stuck with one of the most pretentious, esoteric, self-indulgent movies I've ever seen.

To be fair, the actors in Birdman deliver outstanding work, especially Edward Norton. His Mike Shiner -- a dick of a human being who hides his boorish behavior behind a "method acting" label -- is complicated and multi-layered. And  Michael Keaton gives a solid performance as Riggan Thomson, the lead. But the choice to shoot the film as one long, stand alone shot without scene transition and editing was, to me, a fatal flaw.

It was distracting, and felt gimmicky.

The ending of Birdman, during which Thomson crawls out onto an open ledge and jumps, has been much talked about for its existential theme. It caused me to yawn. I half-hoped the camera would pan downward to show us a broken and bloodied Riggan Thomson on the street below.

That's an honest ending for a movie I wouldn't mind owning.

Saturday, February 07, 2015

Nightcrawler

Way back in 2007, when things called "blogs" were a daily read for many, I posted:  My Top 5: Movies That Give Me The Danny Gut.

(I'll let you read the definition of "The Danny Gut" for yourself at this link.)

Anywhoo, The Danny Gut strikes when I love a movie, but it causes me emotional pain or discomfort. I got it watching Glengarry Glen Ross. I got it trying to watch Requiem For A Dream. I nearly died from the disorder watching Death Of A Salesman.

And I got hit with the bug big time while watching Nightcrawler.

Dan Gilroy hit a home run with his directorial debut. Nightcrawler is a masterpiece. Jake Gyllenhaal channels  a little Travis Bickel in his creation of Lou Bloom, a character the audience can empathize with but can't allow themselves to like.

I liked Lou during sporadic moments -- a few seconds here and a few seconds there -- during the flick. And I hated myself for allowing that to happen.

It's that combination that causes The Danny Gut.



Monday, January 19, 2015

Selma




Despite the burdens
That result from leading change
He remained focused.

Living a life that's
Challenging and uncertain,
He remained steadfast.

Faced with doubt and fear
He looked upward and inward
To inspire others

Saturday, January 17, 2015

American Sniper

My pellet gun -- it was a BB gun, truth be told, but "pellet gun" sounds much more dangerous -- was with me constantly during my pre-teen years, as I explored the woods on my family's small farm on weekends. I wasn't a peacenik tree hugger back then; I'd shoot at anything, alive or not.

I wasn't that good of a shot, though, so I rarely wounded or killed anything.

One Saturday, however, I took aim at a Blue jay perched nearby. I was in its space, I suppose, and it was angry. It would circle in the air above me, then dive suddenly toward my head before perching on a nearby limb to watch me and re-calculate its attack.

It was during this brief respite that I cocked my BB gun, aimed, and pulled the trigger.

The pellet struck the bird in the side of the head, killing it instantly. I ran to it, picked it up, and examined it closely. The bird was lifeless, but it was still beautiful. It's colors were vivid: the contrast between the light and dark blue feathers was remarkable. Realizing that I had taken the life of something so beautiful caused me to become sick to my stomach.

I dropped the bird on the ground and ran home. Overwhelmed. Embarrassed. Guilty.

The experience taught me I'm not built for killing. I just don't have the constitution for it, really. Even if faced with a do-or-die situation, I'm unsure I could view another living thing as simply a target to be shot.

Chris Kyle could.

The ability to detach might have caused problems with his marriage, and created challenges with his own emotional health. But Kyle's skill and abilities saved the lives of hundreds of U.S. soldiers in the Middle East.

It's said that those who can do, and those who can't teach. Or, as in this case, those who can't write about it on a film blog.

Thursday, January 01, 2015

Boyhood

Although I didn't write about all of them here -- trying to maintain a movie blog in the days of Facebook and Twitter feels peripheral and quaint, after all -- I saw some tremendous movies in 2014.

Some were great popcorn flicks (I am Groot!), others tear-jerkers ( We are Groot ), and some movies were funny as hell (He said that he may be an... "a-hole", but he's not, and I quote, "100% a dick").

Well, just trust me . . .  I saw more than one movie in twenty-fourteen.

The best of the bunch, however, was Boyhood.

Richard Linklater's Boyhood is, literally, a coming of age story. Filmed with the same cast over a twelve year period, the audience watches Mason Evans, Jr. grow from a 6-year-old child into a man. We're granted an intimate, inside-the-family perspective -- we become the aunt or uncle watching little Mason celebrate and struggle through the milestones of life.

Boyhood will be remembered as an epic achievement in film- mostly because it was filmed over a long period of time. But that's just a gimmick; that alone isn't what makes this movie great.

The movie is great because Linklater patiently and honestly explores the small moments of Mason's boyhood. As we all know, it is those small moments that make us  the adults we become.

Sunday, November 09, 2014

Interstellar

Early reviews for Interstellar have generally been positive, but varied. The Christopher Nolan flick been called "sentimental" and "thrilling", "clunky" and "epic." Like many movies of this scope, Interstellar has its hits and its misses.

Where it doesn't miss? It tells one hell of a story!

Despite its ambition, Interstellar stays focused on the narrative. It doesn't allow special effects -- there are plenty, and they are cool -- or the characters to overshadow the story. The story is told so well the audience can feel the emotional bond between pilot-turned-farmer Cooper (Matthew McConaughey) and Cooper's daughter, Murphy, even though the two have few scenes together after the first act.

Nolan's epic -- and it is an epic -- may be flawed. But those flaws are forgiven.

Interstellar is just that damn good.



Wednesday, October 29, 2014

Gone Girl

From Se7en, and on through Fight Club, Panic Room, and The Girl With The Dragon Tattoo, I've admired the work of David Fincher. His stripped down, stark, in-the-moment narration keeps me riveted to the screen, captivated by the story.

Gone Girl was no different.

Fincher's raw, in-your-face storytelling reminds viewers that we humans have dark, sinister places deep within our souls. And way too often -- to get what we want, especially -- we go there, despite how our actions might affect others. Even others we are supposed to love.

Affleck is fine in his role as Nick Dunne, and Rosamund Pike is brilliant as Amy. But it's the structure of the film, along with the visual tone set by Fincher, that gets the flick across.