Director Bennett Miller continues to skilfully probe around the edges of true stories with this follow-up to Capote and Moneyball, although this is a much, much darker tale. Actually, it's such an unnerving series of events that it's not easy to watch, and its characters aren't easy to like. But it's so expertly shot and edited, with startlingly full-on performances from the entire cast, that it can't help but get under the skin and chill us to the bone.
It opens after the 1984 Los Angeles Olympics, where Mark Schultz (Channing Tatum) and and his big brother David (Mark Ruffalo) both won gold medals for wrestling. But they need help with funding to train for Seoul 1988, and Mark gets a remarkable offer from billionaire John du Pont (Steve Carell) to start a wrestling team at his vast Foxcatcher estate in New England, which is known for the thoroughbred horses managed by John's imperious mother Jean (Vanessa Redgrave). Aside from wanting to stay home with his wife (Sienna Miller) and kids, David doesn't trust John, so Mark heads to Foxcatcher on his own. But John's obsession knows no bounds, and soon he lures David and family to join them.
Initially, John's interest in wrestling feels like a mere eccentricity, a way of creating a team of "thoroughbreds" to rival his mother's prize-winning horses. But Carell cleverly plays the role with an insinuating glint that makes us wonder what he's up to, and his wrestlers see it too, going along with his nutty plans simply because the money is so good. Then the squirm-inducing twists and turns start, as John introduces Mark to cocaine and everything starts to spiral out of control. Nearly unrecognisable with a prosthetic hook nose, Carell is genuinely terrifying because his performance burns so slowly.
Continue reading: Foxcatcher Review
This four-part franchise, based on the Suzanne Collins novels, turns very dark with this strikingly bold third film, which once again makes the most of perspective to recount a parable about normal people rising up against oppression. This may be a sci-fi apocalypse, but the story is packed with present-day resonance and messy characters who are sometimes unnervingly easy to identify with. So while things get very grim in this chapter, it's still a hugely engaging film, packed with real-life humour and emotion. And it makes Mockingjay Part 2 unmissable.
The story picks up not long after the chaos of the Quarter Quell, when Katniss (Jennifer Lawrence) realised that she had been a pawn for a planned revolution that cast her as the iconic Mockingjay. Now in hiding, the rebels need her to assume the role publicly, but she has other concerns. So she makes a deal with rebel President Coin (Julianne Moore) and her sidekick Plutarch (Philip Seymour Hoffman) that she'll help them if they guarantee safety for the captured Peeta (Josh Hutcherson), who has apparently been brainwashed so he can be used for propaganda purposes by the Capitol's President Snow (Donald Sutherland). Working with her old hunting buddy Gale (Liam Hemsworth), Katniss takes on the Mockingjay role, locking horns with Snow as the rebellion grows in strength.
Once again, director Francis Lawrence vividly tells the story from Katniss' imperfect point of view. This is a teen consumed with anger and confusion, and she can't figure out why she's so inspiring to everyone who looks at her. But she's beginning to understand her impact and how she can use it to help the people she loves. This makes her heroism remarkably human, rather than the usual noble movie self-sacrifice. And Jennifer Lawrence brings so much depth to Katniss that the character transcends even the most jarring plot points. Her internal journey also makes this much more than yet another dystopian teen adventure.
Continue reading: The Hunger Games: Mockingjay Part 1 Review
Jon Kilik - 25th anniversary screening of 'Do The Right Thing' at the closing night of the 2014 BAMcinemaFest at BAM Harvey Theater - Arrivals - New York City, New York, United States - Sunday 29th June 2014
After 2012's The Hunger Games caught us off-guard with its subtle themes, this sequel more than lives up to the hype, dramatically expanding the scale of the action while letting the actors deepen their characters. It's a full-on action epic that cleverly retains author Suzanne Collins' narrative trick of telling the story through a flawed perspective. And it provides the needed push to give the whole saga real momentum.
We join our heroes not long after the last film ended: Katniss and Peeta (Lawrence and Hutcherson) are in trouble for challenging the authority of President Snow (Sutherland) and sowing the seeds of rebellion in the districts. Now they have to travel around the nation with their team - drunken mentor Haymitch (Harrelson), preening manager Effie (Banks), quietly subversive designer Cinna (Kravitz) - soothing ruffled feathers. But of course they only make things worse. So new Gamesmaker Plutarch (Hoffman) plots a way to force them back into the games with all of the past victors, so they can be wiped out for good. And Katniss is so busy worrying about protecting Peeta that she fails to remember who the true enemy is.
Screenwriters Beaufoy and deBruyn (aka Oscar-winner Michael Arndt) inventively maintain Katniss' narrow, inaccurate point-of-view right through the film, which keeps the audience wrong-footed all the way to the end. It's an exhilarating trick that makes the tour of the districts painfully dull and the return to the games utterly horrifying. It also gives Lawrence the chance to flex her own Oscar-winning chops, further tormenting us with her inability to choose between two good men: Peeta and Gale (Hemsworth), her pal back home. She certainly doesn't trust newcomers like the mouthy Johanna (Malone) or the too-hunky Finnick (Claflin).
Continue reading: The Hunger Games: Catching Fire Review
In what was once North America, the ruling class demands an annual sacrifice of the 12 districts that once rebelled: each must select two teens, a boy and a girl, to battle in a wooded arena to the death, with the last one standing crowned victor. In the poor mining District 12, the tributes are ace archer Katniss (Lawrence) and muscly baker Peeta (Hutcherson), who forge an awkward friendship as they're thrust into the televised competition. Trained by Haymitch (Harrelson), promoted by Effie (Banks), groomed by Cinna (Kravitz), interviewed by Caesar (Tucci) - it's simply overwhelming.
Continue reading: The Hunger Games Review
Even before his doctor tells him he has terminal cancer, Uxbal (Bardem) is struggling to manage a team of illegal African immigrants who sell fake designer products made by illegal Chinese immigrants in secret factories. He does this to care for his young children (Bouchaib and Estrella), while his bipolar ex Marambra (Alvarez) works as a prostitute. Meanwhile, Uxbal and his brother Tito (Fernandez) are selling the burial plot of the father they never knew. But this only stirs Uxbal's emotions even further.
Continue reading: Biutiful Review
It's still an important film, but it lacks the badly needed final gut-punch.
Although born in the 1970s, Miral (Pinto) traces her life back to Israel's partition in 1948, when the young Hind (Abbass) turned her father's home into an orphanage for Palestinian refugees. Three decades later, Miral becomes a student in Hind's school when her father (Siddig) places her there after the death of her mother (Al Massri). Later as a teen, Miral's relationship with her father and Hind are strained when she develops a crush on handsome freedom fighter Hani (Metwally). And she begins to realise that the path to peace is rather complex.
Continue reading: Miral Review
The murder serves as a gateway for Lee back to World War II, however, where Negron's complicated story establishes a link to his not-so-innocent victim. As a soldier serving in the Army's 92nd Infantry -- nicknamed the Buffalo Soldiers -- Negron and his compatriots Stamps (Derek Luke), Bishop (Michael Ealy), and Train (Omar Benson Miller) end up behind enemy lines in Tuscany, where they evade Nazi troops, protect an Italian village from attack, and babysit a doe-eyed boy (Matteo Sciabordi) who speaks to the dead (and sounds like Roberto Benigni while doing so).
Continue reading: Miracle at St. Anna Review
Julian Schnabel's engrossing new documentary, Lou Reed's Berlin, is immediately at odds with this mindset. Schnabel prefaces the film with his own interpretation of Lou Reed's famous 1973 commercial failure, an album, as he would have it, about "love's dark sisters: jealousy, rage, and loss". In reality, Berlin was the follow-up to Reed's breakthrough album Transformer, a Bowie-aping glam rock juggernaut. But unlike its widely-loved, commercially successful predecessor, Berlin made hooey at the cash register and was received with mixed critical reaction. Today, many of Reed's most ardent fans consider it his shining hour as a solo artist.
Continue reading: Lou Reed's Berlin Review
Julian Schnabel's The Diving Bell and the Butterfly takes its title from said book, and, like its source material, the film has a spiffy discordance to it. When Bauby (the great Mathieu Amalric) opens his eyes, so does the camera, and we are struck by the light in the same petrified and blurry way that Bauby is. Manipulated to Brakhage-like lengths, the image has the same effect as Jean-Do's fumbling voiceover; we are as unsure of his footing as he is. His pleading to not sew up an eye threatened by infection becomes our begging; we don't want to lose the slight view we have. Then, with little preparation, we aren't with the protagonist anymore, and we are looking at a frozen, terminally-twitched face in a hospital bed.
Continue reading: The Diving Bell and the Butterfly Review
In fact, Oliver Stone's overblown biopic detailing the global conquests of Alexander the Great (Colin Farrell) would make a nice bookend to Wolfgang Petersen's lopsided sword-and-sandal epic. One day you'll be able to tap Netflix for the two titles and combine them for a battle-worthy double feature. You'll only need an entire weekend to wrap it up.
Continue reading: Alexander Review