Film Review: Georgetown (dir by Christoph Waltz)

Georgetown is one of those films that’s been around for a while.

The movie, which is the directorial debut of Christoph Waltz. was originally filmed in 2017.  It made its debut at the Tribeca Film Festival in 2019, where it received respectful reviews.  It played in at least some parts of Europe in 2020.  But it didn’t get a limited theatrical release in America until May of 2021 and it was released on VOD just a few days later.  Some of the delays in the film’s release were undoubtedly due to the uncertainty bred by the COVID lockdowns.  And some of it was probably due to no one being sure how to market a true crime film about murder amongst the rich and powerful of Washington D.C.  As such, Georgetown didn’t really get much attention when it was released.  That’s a shame, because it’s actually a pretty good movie, a clever mix of social satire and legal drama.

Christoph Waltz not only directs but also stars as Ulrich Mott.  Mott is a somewhat ludicrous figure.  His past is shadowy.  He claims to have served as a member of the French Foreign Legion, though his breaks down in tears after a snarky State Department official points out that none of Mott’s medals appear to be genuine.  Mott claims to have a lot of powerful and influential acquaintances, even though many of them only know him because he aggressively approached them at a party and forced them to take one of his business cards.  He occasionally wears a eye patch, even though he doesn’t need it.  After the fall of Saddam Hussein, Mott announces that he has been named a brigadier general in the Iraqi army and he claims to be a lobbyist for the new government.  Mott is also the head of a consulting firm called the Eminent Persons Group, which is later described as just being a Ponzi scheme for the rich and powerful.

It’s easy to make fun of Ulrich Mott but, throughout the film, we watch as he arranges dinners with men like future Defense Secretary Chuck Hagel and former French Prime Minister Michel Rocard.  He meets with former Defense Secretary Robert McNamara.  He mentions the he knows George Soros.  Mott is well-known among America’s elite, if not exactly respected.  This is almost entirely due to his marriage to the much older Elsa Breht (Vanessa Redgrave), a journalist who is, at one point, described as being “the queen of Georgetown society.”

When the 91 year-old Elsa is discovered dead at the foot of her staircase, the police originally think that she may have just suffered from an accidental fall.  Mott, however, declares that it’s obvious that Elsa was murdered by his enemies and that he will dedicate the rest of his life to tracking them down and getting justice.  Meanwhile, Elsa’s daughter (played by Annette Bening) is convinced that Mott murdered her mother.  The police agree and Ulrich Mott is soon on trial.  Mott’s main concern is that he be allowed to wear his red beret in the courtroom.  After all, it’s apart of his uniform as a brigadier general in the Iraqi army.

Flashing back and forth from the past to the present, Georgetown is primarily a character study of a man who has little talent and not much of a conscience but who does have a lot of ambition and a lot of charm.  Mott works his way up into the upper channels of D.C. society through a combination of flattery and compulsive lying and Waltz gives such a charismatic performance in the lead role that you believe every minute of it.  He’s appealingly vulnerable when he approaches the first clients for what will become the Eminent Persons Group and it’s hard not to sympathize with him when he breaks down in tears after being exposed, for the first time, as a fraud.  However, as the film progresses, we’re left to wonder if the vulnerability and tears were genuine or if they were just another part of Ulrich Mott’s performance.  Mott is both diabolically arrogant and almost compulsively self-destructive and Waltz does a great job of portraying those two seemingly conflicting sides of his personality.  He’s well-matched by Vanessa Redgrave, who makes Elsa’s love for Mott feel real and credible.  Watching the film, one can understand why Elsa initially believed in Mott and also why she stayed with him even as she discovered that he was never quite who he claimed to be,

Georgetown is nicely done portrait of duplicity and murder among America’s elite.  It’s both sharply satiric and, in its way, rather heart-breaking.  It definitely deserves more attention that it originally received.

Horror Film Review: The Devils (dir by Ken Russell)

In 17th Century France, Louis XIII (Graham Armitage) may be king but it’s the devious Cardinal Richelieu (Christopher Logue) who holds the power. Richelieu has convinced that king that every walled city in France should have its walls blown up, the better to keep track of what’s actually happening within the city. Unfortunately, for Richelieu, Louis XIII promised the Governor of Louden that he would never harm any structure in the city, leaving its walls untouchable. While Louis XIII concentrates on throwing outdoor parties where murdering protestant is the main source of entertainment, Richelieu searches for an excuse to destroy the walls of Loudon.

Along with being frustrated by the fact that Loudon retains its walls, Richelieu is also upset that the unofficial leader of the city is Ubrain Grandier (Oliver Reed), a decadent priest who has not only criticized the discipline of clerical celibacy but who has also publicly opposed the Cardinal’s efforts to increase his own political power. Grandier has made it clear that, as long as he’s in control, the walls of Loudon will never came down and the people of Loudon, fearful of the plague that is ravaging the world outside of the walls, support him.

Among Grandier’s many admirers is Sister Jeanne des Agnes (Vanessa Redgrave), a hunchback who is also the abbess of the local convent. Having become sexually obsessed with Grandier, Agnes requests that he become the confessor of the convent. When Grandier refuses, it sets off a chain reaction that eventually leads to Grandier being accused of worshipping the Devil and “bewitching” Sister Agnes and several other nuns. With the arrival of Father Barre (Michael Gothard), a fanatical witch hunter, the city of Loudon descends into darkness and decadence.

Directed by the infamous (and, let’s just admit it, brilliant) Ken Russell and first released in 1971, The Devils is not an easy film to see. When the film was originally released in Britain, it was controversial for its uncompromising depiction of 17th century torture and its combination of religion and sexual imagery. (This, of course, was a recurring theme in almost all of Russell’s work.) The British censors demanded a few minor cuts before agreeing to approve the film for release. While the British censors focused on the scenes of violence, Warner Bros. also removed several sexually explicit scenes, the most infamous of which was a sequence in which a group of naked nuns sexually defiled a statue of Christ. Also removed was a scene of a priest masturbating while watching the nuns and finally, a scene in which Sister Jeanne masturbated with a charred femur bone. Russell was not happy with the changes and, needless to say, he was even more upset when Warner Bros. removed an additional three minutes before releasing the film in the United States.

In the U.S., The Devils was even more controversial than it had been in the United Kingdom and, while many critics praised it as being a powerful attack on hypocrisy, others described it as merely being pornographic. Despite the cuts that were made, the American version of The Devils was slapped with an X rating and Warner Bros. attempted to distance itself from the controversy that had developed around the film. As of this writing, The Devils has never been given a proper Region 1 DVD or Blu-ray release. It’s rare that ever shows up on any streaming platforms. Even YouTube has only a handful of scenes. If you want to watch The Devils in America, you’re going to have to track down a VCR player and watch it on VHS. And, even then, you’ll only be seeing the version that was cut for the U.S.

Will Ken Russell’s original, uncut version ever be seen in America? It’s a question that many film students have asked themselves. In 2002, a 117-minute edition of The Devils played in London, featuring some of the footage that was cut from the film’s original release. However, that version is still considered to be incomplete and it’s certainly not available here in the United States. The Devils does occasionally show up on Shudder, which is how I saw it earlier this year. Of course, the Shudder version was the cut American version, which Russell repeatedly disowned.

Watching the film, I could understand Russell’s anger. It wasn’t just that scenes had been cut out of the film. It was that the scenes were often edited out with such a lack of finesse that it made the film seem disjointed. Russell was a director known for his hallucinatory and deliberately over-the-top style. When the film abruptly cuts away from showing us its most shocking images, it feels antethical to everything that Russell was about as a filmmaker. On the one hand, it’s easy to say, “Who cares if a scene of Vanessa Redgrave masturbating with a charred femur bone has been removed from the film? Who wants to see that?” But if you watch The Devils, it becomes apparent that it’s not about what would be pleasant to see. Indeed, in many ways, The Devils is meant as a deliberate attack on the senses, one in which shocking imagery is used to awaken the audience from their complacency. As such, the controversy about how the film was cut is not about what’s acceptable. Instead, it’s about the fact that Russell has created a world where it somehow makes total sense that Sister Jeanne would pick up the femur and make use of it. By editing the scene so that it abruptly ends with Jeanne merely looking at the bone, Warner Bros. forced The Devils to not be true to itself.

And yet, despite all of that, The Devils remains a powerful and disturbing film, a hallucinatory collection of nightmarish images and haunting scenes. The excessive stylization that was Ken Russell’s trademark is perfect for this story of an entire community caught up in a frenzy of paranoia and repression. Though a period film (and based on a true story), Russell’s Loudon resembles an alien landscape, an almost expressionistic city of pristine walls and dirty streets. Vanessa Redgrave’s twisted nun stalks through the film like an ominous spirit, both wanting and hating Grandier at the same time. When the “possessions” begin, the possessed finally have the excuse to do what they truly want and to live just as wantonly as the men who previously controlled their lives. Because they’ve come to believe that they’re no longer responsible for their own actions, they can indulge in every depravity. But with Louis XIII casually murdering protestants for sport at his estate and Richelieu manipulating church policy to his own ends, the film asks why the people’s actions are more worthy of condemnation than the actions of the people who rule them.

The Devils has reputation for being blasphemous. It is, of course, nothing of the sort. After I watched the film, I did a little research and I was not surprised to discover that Ken Russell was a practicing Catholic because only a Catholic could make a film that both celebrated what the Church could be while also condemning it for so often falling short. While Richelieu represents the people who use religion as a vehicle for their own drive for power and Sister Jeanne and the witch-hunter Father Barre represents the fanatics who use church doctrine to justify their own madness, it is the sinner Father Grandier who represents what the Church should be. It is Grandier who is ultimately forced to put his own life at risk to protect the people of Loudon.

Is The Devils are horror film? Some would probably argue with my claim that it is. They would probably claim that it’s a historical drama with a heavy political subtext, However, for me, the imagery itself is disturbing enough to justify calling The Devils a horror film. The possessed of Loudon eventually prove themselves to be as mad as any of the infected people from George Romero’s The Crazies and the torture that Grandier suffers is frightening specifically because it’s all based on fact. There really was a town named Loudon that had walls. There really was a priest named Grandier who was accused of practicing witchcraft and who suffered the most vile torture as a result.. The Devils is a film about people driven made by a combination of repression and fanaticsm. It’s a horror film because it’s true and, needless to say, the madness that possessed Loudon didn’t die out in the 17th Century. It’s continued into the present day.

Oliver Reed may seem like an odd choice to play a priest but he gives one of his best performances as the charismatic but foolishly cocky Grandier. Vanessa Redgrave is frightening as the disturbed Sister Jeanne and British actor Murray Melvin is alternatively sympathetic and pathetic as a priest who comes to believe in Grandier’s innocence. For me, though, the film is stolen by Michael Gothard, who plays the fanatical witch hunter, Father Barre. With his long hair and his glasses, Father Barre bears a definite resemblance to John Lennon and the film portrays him as being the 17th century equivalent of a rock star, an arrogant and sensual man who encourages people to indulge in their most secret desires so that he can then declare them to be possessed and in need of an exorcism. Gothard had a magnetic screen presence, allowing him to steal scenes from even formidable talents like Oliver Reed and Vanessa Redgrave. Gothard would go on to play the silent assassin in the James Bond film, For Your Eyes Only and was, again, memorably threatening. Sadly, Gothard took his own life in 1992.

Someday, perhaps the full unedited version of The Devils will be available. Until then, even the edited version retains its power to shock, disturb, and make you think. Today, more than ever, its portrait of hypocrisy and mass madness feels relevant. The modern age is still ruled by hysteria and paranoia and our leaders are still looking for any excuse to take down any walls that might protect us from having to submit to their will. How different is Sister Jeanne from the people who are currently hurling accusations on social media? How different is Father Barre from the the people who were are currently told have all the answers? We may no longer burn people at the stake but we’ve found new ways to silence voices of dissent. The film may have been set in 17th Century France and first released in 1971 but Ken Russell’s masterpiece is all about the modern age. The Devils in not an easy film to watch or find but it is more than worth the effort to track down.





Here’s The Trailer For Georgetown

Georgetown, which is based on an actual Washington, D.C. murder, is one of those films that’s been out there for a while. Filming was completed in 2019 and it played at the Tribeca Film Festival that year. However, the film’s general release was held up by the both the pandemic and the fact that critics who saw it were fairly indifferent to it. Now, two years later, Georgetown will finally be getting a May 14th release before going to VOD a week later.

The main reason I’m curious about Georgetown is that it both stars and was directed by Christoph Waltz, an actor who sometimes seems to have kind of disappeared despite winning two Oscars and playing a Bond villain. Of course, Waltz hasn’t really disappeared. It’s just been a while since he appeared in a film that really captured the popular imagination. Along with Georgetown, he’ll be appearing in both The French Dispatch and No Time To Die in 2021.

Here’s the trailer for Georgetown, which co-stars Vanessa Redgrave and Annette Bening.

Film Review: Murder on the Orient Express (dir by Sidney Lumet)

There’s been a murder on the Orient Express!

In the middle of the night, a shady American businessman (Richard Widmark) was stabbed to death.  Now, with the train momentarily stalled due to a blizzard, its up to the world’s greatest detective, Hercule Poirot (Albert Finney), to solve the crime.  With only hours to go before the snow is cleared off the tracks and the case is handed over to the local authorities, Hercule must work with Bianchi (Martin Balsam) and Dr. Constantine (George Coulouris) to figure out who among the all-star cast is a murderer.

Is it the neurotic missionary played by Ingrid Bergman?  Is it the diplomat played by Michael York or his wife, played by Jacqueline Bisset?  Is it the military man played by Sean Connery?  How about Anthony Perkins or John Gielgud?  Maybe it’s Lauren Bacall or could it be Wendy Hiller or Rachel Roberts or even Vanessa Redgrave?  Who could it be and how are they linked to a previous kidnapping, one that led to the murder of an infant and the subsequent death of everyone else in the household?

Well, the obvious answer, of course, is that it had to be Sean Connery, right?  I mean, we’ve all seen From Russia With Love.  We know what that man is capable of doing on a train.  Or what about Dr. No?  Connery shot a man in cold blood in that one and then he smirked about it.  Now, obviously, Connery was playing James Bond in those films but still, from the minute we see him in Murder on the Orient Express, we know that he’s a potential killer.  At the height of his career, Connery had the look of a killer.  A sexy killer, but a killer nonetheless….

Actually, the solution to the mystery is a bit more complicated but you already knew that.  One of the more challenging things about watching the 1974 version of Murder on the Orient Express is that, in all probability, the viewer will already know how the victim came to be dead.  As convoluted as the plot may be, the solution is also famous enough that even those who haven’t seen the 1974 film, the remake, or read Agatha Christie’s original novel will probably already know what Poirot is going to discover.

That was something that director Sidney Lumet obviously understood.  Hence, instead of focusing on the mystery, he focuses on the performers.  His version of Murder on the Orient Express is full of character actors who, along with being talented, were also theatrical in the best possible way.  The film is essentially a series of monologues, with each actor getting a few minutes to show off before Poirot stepped up to explain what had happened.  None of the performances are exactly subtle but it doesn’t matter because everyone appears to be having a good time.  (Finney, in particular, seems to fall in love with his occasionally indecipherable accent.)  Any film that has Anthony Perkins, John Gielgud, Lauren Bacall, Sean Connery, Ingrid Bergman, and Albert Finney all acting up a storm is going to be entertaining to watch.

Though it’s been a bit overshadowed by the Kenneth Branagh version, the original Murder on the Orient Express holds up well.  I have to admit that Sidney Lumet always seems like he would have been a bit of an odd choice to direct this film.  I mean, just consider that he made this film in-between directing Serpico and Dog Day Afternoon.  However, Lumet pulls it off, largely by staying out of the way of his amazing cast and letting them act up a storm.  It looks like it was a fun movie to shoot.  It’s certainly a fun movie to watch, even if we do already know the solution.

The Pledge (2001, directed by Sean Penn)

Jerry Black (Jack Nicholson) is a detective who, on the verge of retirement, goes to one final crime scene.  The victim is a child named Ginny Larsen and when Ginny’s mother (Patricia Clarkson) demands that Jerry not only promise to find the murderer but that he pledge of his immortal soul that he’ll do it, it’s a pledge that Jerry takes seriously.  Jerry’s partner, Stan (Aaron Eckhart), manages to get a confession from a developmentally disabled man named Jay Wadenah (Benicio del Toro) but Jerry doesn’t believe that the confession is authentic.  When Wadenah commits suicide in his cell, the police are ready to close the case but Jerry remembers his pledge.  He remains determined to find the real killer.

Even though he’s retired, the case continues to obsess Jerry.  He becomes convinced that Ginny was the latest victim of a serial killer and he even buys a gas station because it’s located in the center of where most of the murders were committed.  Jerry befriend a local waitress named Lori (Robin Wright) and, when Lori tells him about her abusive ex, he invites Lori and her daughter to stay with him.  Lori’s daughter, Chrissy (Pauline Roberts), is around Ginny’s age and when she tells Jerry about a “wizard” who gives her toys, Jerry becomes convinced that she’s being targeted by the same man who killed Ginny.  Even as Jerry and Lori fall in love, the increasingly unhinged Jerry makes plans to use Chrissy as bait to bring the killer out of hiding.

The Pledge was Sean Penn’s third film as a director.  As with all of Penn’s directorial efforts, with the notable exception of Into The Wild, The Pledge is relentlessly grim.  Freed, by virtue of his celebrity, from worrying about whether or not anyone would actually want to sit through a depressing two-hour film about murdered children, Penn tells a story with no definite resolution and no real hope for the future.  The Pledge is a cop film without action and a mystery without a real solution and a character study of a man whose mind you don’t want to enter.  It’s well-made and it will keep you guess but it’s also slow-paced and not for the easily depressed.

The cast is made up of familiar character actors, most of whom probably took their roles as a favor to Penn.  Harry Dean Stanton, Tom Noonan, Patricia Clarkson, Sam Shephard, Vanessa Redgrave, Helen Mirren, and Mickey Rourke have all got small roles and they all give good performances, even if it’s sometimes distracting to have even the smallest, most inconsequential of roles played by someone familiar.  Most importantly, The Pledge actually gives Jack Nicholson a real role to play.  Jerry Black is actually an interesting and complex human being and Nicholson dials back his usual shtick and instead actually makes the effort to explore what makes Jerry tick and what lays at the root of his obsession.

Though definitely not for everyone, The Pledge sticks with you and shows what Jack Nicholson, who now appears to be retired from acting, was capable of when given the right role.

The Game’s Afoot: THE SEVEN-PER-CENT SOLUTION (Universal 1976)

cracked rear viewer


Sherlock Holmes has long been a favorite literary character of mine. As a youth, I devoured the Sir Arthur Conan Doyle stories, marveling at the sleuth’s powers of observation and deduction. I reveled in the classic Universal film series starring Basil Rathbone and Nigel Bruce as Holmes and Watson, and still enjoy them today. I read Nicholas Meyer’s 1974 novel “The Seven-Per-Cent Solution” as a teen, where a coked-out Holmes is lured by Watson to Vienna to have the famed Sigmund Freud cure the detective of his addiction, getting enmeshed in mystery along the way. I’d never viewed the film version until recently, and while Meyer’s screenplay isn’t completely faithful to his book, THE SEVEN-PER-CENT SOLUTION is one of those rare instances where the movie is better than the novel.


This is due in large part to a pitch-perfect cast, led by Nicol Williamson’s superb performance as Sherlock. We see Holmes at his worst…

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Embracing the Melodrama Part II #110: Atonement (dir by Joe Wright)

Atonement_UK_posterWhenever I think back on the 2007 best picture nominee Atonement, my first thought is usually, “Oh my God!  Benedict Cumberbatch is in this movie!”

And, indeed, he is.  However, I’m kind of glad that I didn’t know who Benedict was when I first saw this film because, if I had, I doubt I would have ever been able to look at him in quite the same way again.  (Fortunately, I had somehow forgotten that I had previously seen him in Atonement when I first saw Benedict in Sherlock.)  Benedict’s role in Atonement is not a large one but it is pivotal to the film’s plot.  He plays Paul Marshall, a man who has made a fortune as a chocolate manufacturer in pre-World War II England.  Paul is handsome, charming, and rich.  After all, he’s played by Benedict Cumberbatch.  He’s also a rapist who, later in the film, marries one of his victims specifically to make it impossible for her to ever testify against him in court.

Atonement is one of those films where the British upper class meets the lower class and forbidden love and tragedy follow.  Cecilia Tallis (Keira Knightley) is the oldest of the Tallis sisters.  Her family is rich but she’s in love with Robbie Turner (James McAvoy), the son of the housekeeper.  One night, Robbie attempts to write a love note to Cecilia and, growing frustrated with his inability to come up with right words, he writes an over-the-top, sexually explicit letter as a joke.  (And the audience gaps, “Oh my God!  They used that word in the 30s!?”)  He then goes on to write a more standard love note.  However, when he asks Cicilia’s younger sister, 13 year-old Briony (Saorise Ronan) to deliver the note to Cecilia, he accidentally gives her the wrong note.  Briony reads it to her cousin Lola (Juno Temple) and, already jealous of Robbie and Cecilia’s flirtation, she decides that Robbie must be a “sex maniac.”

Briony, who writes plays in her spare time, later spies on Robbie and Cecilia as they have sex for the first time.  Briony, who has a crush on Robbie, grows more and more jealous.  Later that night, while looking for Lola’s twin brothers, Briony sees a man running through the woods.  When she goes to investigate, Briony discovers that the man has raped Lola.  When asked by the police, Briony lies and says that Robbie was the man running in the woods.  She also shows everyone the “joke” letter that Robbie wrote, proving, in their eyes, that Robbie is guilty.  Robbie is sent to prison.  Of the Tallises, only Cecilia believes that Robbie is innocent.  Angered over their quickness to accuse Robbie, Cecilia cuts off all contact with her family.

As the years pass, Briony comes to realize that Paul was the rapist and she struggles to deal with her guilt.  When World War II breaks out, Robbie is released from prison on the condition that he join the army.  Meanwhile, Briony volunteers as a nurse and tries to come up with a way to bring Cecilia and Robbie back together.

I didn’t really appreciate the film the first time that I saw it but, with subsequent viewings, I came to appreciate Atonement as an intelligent and well-acted look at guilt, forgiveness, and redemption.  James McAvoy and Keira Knightley both have amazing chemistry and Saoirse Ronan is amazing in her film debut.  You can see why Atonement‘s director, Joe Wright, subsequently cast her in Hanna.  Compared to the other films nominated for best picture of 2007 — No Country For Old Men, Juno, There Will Be Blood, and Michael ClaytonAtonement is definitely a low-key film.  But it definitely more than deserved its nomination.

Film Review: Foxcatcher (dir by Bennett Miller)

What a long and strange trip it has been for Foxcatcher.

Originally, Bennett Miller’s latest film was scheduled to be released at the end of 2013 and it was expected to be a major player in the 2013 Oscar race.  And then it was suddenly announced that Sony Pictures would, instead, wait an extra year to release the film.  Usually, this is a sign of a film that’s not expected to live up to expectations.  (Case in point: The Monuments Men.) But, in this case, it was seen as being the exact opposite.  Sony had such faith in the Oscar prospects of Foxcatcher that they were willing to hold off a year so it wouldn’t get lost in all of the attention that was being given to American Hustle, Gravity, 12 Years A Slave, and Wolf of Wall Street.

And, in many ways, it was a smart move.  Overnight, Foxcatcher went from being that weird movie with Steve Carell to being one of the most anticipated film of 2014.

Then, during the summer, Foxcatcher premiered at Cannes and was one of the hits of the festival.  With the notable exception of the A.V. Club’s A.A. Dowd, the reviewers at Cannes were rapturous in their praise of Foxcatcher.  And, though it failed to win the Palme d’Or, it did win best director for Bennett Miller and it cemented it’s status as the Oscar front-runner.

And then, something started to happen.

There was backlash against Foxcatcher.  As more and more critics saw the film, we started to hear more and more speculation that the film would fail to live up to all of the hype.  Critics generally praised the performers but many complained that the film was too cold and detached for its own good.  At first, it was easy to say that this was partially the result of unrealistically high expectations.  But, as more and more reviews came in, it became almost fashionable to speculate that Foxcatcher would be left out of the Oscar race.

Of course, most of us who were doing the speculating were doing so without actually having seen the film for ourselves.  After all, film critics and festival goers aren’t the ones who actually vote on what films will be nominated for and win Oscars.  One need only look at the nominations for Extremely Loud and Incredibly Close to realize that.

Well, Foxcatcher has finally been released and we’ve all finally gotten a chance to see it.  I saw it last week, while I was in Fort Worth for the Christmas holidays.  And my reaction…

Well, there’s a reason why it’s taken me nearly a week to write this review.

Ultimately, Foxcatcher is a good film.  In fact, on a purely technical level, it’s probably one of the best films of the year.  If it is nominated for best picture, the nomination will not necessarily be undeserved.  Bennett Miller comes up with some hauntingly chilly images.  Steve Carell, Channing Tatum, and Mark Ruffalo all give excellent performances.  It’s a film that stays with you, a powerful depiction of a true crime.

But it’s still not an easy film to enjoy.

Those critics who complained that Miller’s approach was too cold and detached have a point.  You watch the film with a sense of dread, knowing what’s going to eventually happen.  (Though I didn’t know anything about the murder of Dave Schultz before the film, I had read the reviews and I knew that eventually Mark Ruffalo’s kind-hearted family man would end up being gunned down in front of his family.)  But Miller always keeps the characters and the story at a distance.  You watch the characters and you struggle to understand them but, by the end of the film, you’re no closer to understanding why John E. du Pont (the eccentric millionaire turned murdered, played by Steve Carell) murdered Dave Schultz than you were at the beginning.

Instead, Miller is more interested as looking at John du Pont as being an example of American exceptionalism gone crazy.  Throughout the film, characters frequently comment on the fact that the du Ponts are one of the oldest and richest families in America.  (Not coincidentally, we’re also told that they initially made their fortune by producing and selling gunpowder.)  Du Pont is an outspoken and proud American.  Along with training wrestlers on the grounds of his estate (the Foxcatcher of the title), he also frequently invites the police to use the grounds for target practice.  Though Miller couldn’t have realized it when the film was originally shot in 2013, the scenes of the obviously unstable du Pont hanging out with the cops take on an extra resonance in this time of Eric Garner and Tamir Rice.

John du Pont frequently talks about how his plan to open a world-class wrestling training facility is, at heart, a patriotic act.  The world wrestling championship, du Pont believes, belongs in America and he’s going to make sure that it gets there.  In order to achieve this goal, he hires Olympic gold medalist Mark Schultz (Channing Tatum) to be his wrestling coach.  Mark, who has always lived in the shadow of his older brother Dave (Mark Ruffalo), jumps at the chance to establish his own identity.  At first, du Pont is like the father that Mark has never had.  They even become friends.  (Du Pont, at one point, talks about discovering that all of his childhood friends had been paid to be his friend.)  Mark shows du Pont some wrestling moves.  Du Pont introduces Mark to cocaine.

But, ultimately, it becomes apparent that du Pont’s friendship with Mark was really just a ruse to get Mark to convince his older brother to come work for du Pont.  When Dave finally does join Mark at Foxcatcher, it causes Mark to turn self-destructive and du Pont to eventually turn into a murderer.

And, as I said, it’s a powerful film.  Channing Tatum gives the performance of his career and Steve Carell is frighteningly believable as John du Pont.  (One minor complaint: Carell is being promoted for best actor, even though his performance was clearly a supporting one.)  Mark Ruffalo, as well, does great work as Dave and somehow manages to make innate human decency compelling.

But the film itself is so cold and detached that, ultimately, this is a film that you end up respecting more than you end up enjoying.




Lisa’s Way Too Early Oscar Predictions For June

Timothy Spall in Mr Turner

It’s time for me to update my way too early Oscar predictions!  Every month, based on a combination of buzz, reviews, gut feelings, and random guesses, I attempt to predict which films, directors, and performers will receive nominations in 2015!  For the June edition, I look at how my predictions have been effected and changed by the results of the Cannes Film Festival.

Thanks to Cannes, I’m a bit more sure about some of my predictions (in particular, Foxcatcher, Mr. Turner, and Julianne Moore in Map To The Stars).  But at the same time, the majority of these predictions remain the result of instinct and random guessing.

Click on the links to check out my predictions for March, April, and May!

And now, here are June’s predictions!

Best Picture




The Imitation Game


Mr. Turner



Based on its reception at Cannes, I’ve added Mr. Turner to the list of nominees.    I’ve also dropped Unbroken from the list, largely because of how aggressively it is currently being hyped by people who have yet to see it.    Traditionally, the more intensely an awards contender is hyped during the first half of the year, the more likely it is that the film itself is going to be end up being ignored once the actual nominations are announced.  (This is known as the Law of The Butler.)

Best Director

Alejandro Gonzalez Inarritu for Birdman

Mike Leigh for Mr. Turner

Richard Linklater for Boyhood

Bennett Miller for Foxcatcher

Jean-Marc Vallee for Wild

I’ve dropped Angelina Jolie (Unbroken) and Morten Tyldum (The Imitation Game) and replaced them with Mike Leigh (Mr. Turner) and Bennett Miller (Foxcatcher).  I’m far more confident that Cannes winner Miller will receive a nomination than Leigh.

Best Actor

Steve Carell in Foxcatcher

Benedict Cumberbatch in The Imitation Game

Ralph Fiennes in The Grand Budapest Hotel

Michael Keaton in Birdman

Timothy Spall in Mr. Turner

The big addition here is Timothy Spall, who I am predicting will be nominated for his Cannes-winning performance in Mr. Turner.

Best Actress

Amy Adams in Big Eyes

Jessica Chastain in The Disappearance of Eleanor Rigby

Rosamund Pike in Gone Girl

Reese Whitherspoon in Wild

Shailene Woodley in The Fault In Our Stars

Based on the charming but slight trailer for Magic In The Moonlight, I have removed Emma Stone from this list.  I was tempted to replace her with Hillary Swank but even the positive reviews of The Homesman were curiously muted.  So, I ended up going with Jessica Chastain’s performance in The Disappearance of Eleanor Rigby.  I also replaced Michelle Williams with Shailene Woodley who, much like Jennifer Lawrence over the past two years, is currently starring in both a commercially successful franchise film and a critically and commercially acclaimed drama.  That said, The Fault In Our Stars may have opened too early in the year to be a legitimate contender.

Best Supporting Actor

James Franco in True Story

Ethan Hawke in Boyhood

Mark Ruffalo in Foxcatcher

Martin Sheen in Trash

J.K. Simmons in Whiplash

I’ve moved Ralph Fiennes back up to Best Actor and I’ve replaced him with James Franco for True Story.  That might be wishful thinking on my part because everyone knows that I have a huge crush on James Franco.  However, the role — that of a real-life murderer who steals a reporter’s identity — sounds like both a chance of pace for Franco and the type of role that often leads to Oscar recognition.  (Just ask Steve Carell…)

Speaking of Steve Carell, he’s not the only actor getting awards-buzz for his performance in Foxcatcher.  Channing Tatum has been getting the best reviews of his career.  If he’s promoted for a supporting nod, Tatum is probably guaranteed a nomination (and, in all probability, that would doom the chances of Mark Ruffalo).  However, Tatum is apparently going to be promoted for best actor and his chances might be a bit more iffy in that race.

Best Supporting Actress

Patricia Arquette in Boyhood

Julianne Moore in Map To The Stars

Vanessa Redgrave in Foxcatcher

Kristen Scott Thomas in Suite francaise

Kristen Stewart in The Clouds of Sils Maria

Unlike a lot of film bloggers, I am not expecting Into the Woods to be a major Oscar contender.  (See The Law of The Butler above.)  While I was originally predicting that this film would manage to get Meryl Streep her annual nomination, I am now going to go out on a limb and predict that Meryl Streep will not be nominated for anything (other than maybe a Nobel Peace Prize) in 2015.  I’m also dropping both Viola Davis and Marcia Gay Harden from my list of predicted nominees and I’m replacing them with three actresses who received a lot of acclaim at Cannes: Julianne Moore for Map To The Stars, Vanessa Redgrave for Foxcatcher, and Kristen Stewart for The Clouds of Sils Maria.

Yes, I know what you’re saying — “Kristen Stewart!?”  Personally, if she’s as good as her reviews for The Clouds of Sils Maria seem to indicate, I think she will definitely be nominated.  I think it will actually help her case that she’s not exactly an acclaimed actress.  Look at it this way — people take it for granted that Meryl Streep is going to give a great performance, so much so that they’ll even make excuses for Meryl’s shrill turn in August: Osage County.  When someone like Kristen Stewart shows that she’s capable of more than Twilight, people notice and remember.  It’s those performances that inspire people to go, “Oh yeah, she actually can act!” that often lead to Oscar momentum.

And those are my predictions for June.  Agree?  Disagree?  Let me know in the comments section below!

Kristen Stewart

And here’s the Cannes Teaser for Foxcatcher!

Speaking of Cannes, Bennett Miller’s Foxcatcher has also been shown at the festival and it got a far more positive reaction than Lost River.  Below is the teaser that was released to coincide with its Cannes premiere.

I think everyone is pretty much assuming that both Foxcatcher and Steve Carell are going to be nominated for Oscars.  The big question, right now, seems to be rather Mark Ruffalo or Channing Tatum will join the list of nominees.  I’m also going to be keeping an eye on Vanessa Redgrave, who has a small role as Carell’s mother.  After all, a Redgrave nomination would be a chance for the Academy to honor a respected actress who might not be appearing in many more films.

(As well, it would be a perfect excuse to get Franco Nero to come to the ceremony!)

As for the trailer below — if nothing else, this movie looks intense.  It’s interesting to see Carell in such a dark role but I fully believe that he’s capable of pulling it off.