Month: January 2015

FOXCATCHER

2014 – Eccentric multimillionaire John E. du Pont hires wrestler Mark Schultz to spearhead an increasingly disturbing and obsessive quest to win Olympic gold. Based on a true story.

Have you ever heard that people say more in their silences than they do with their actual words? If that’s true, then Foxcatcher has more to say than any film in history. The sheer number of awkward pauses is staggering. That’s not a complaint – when the characters pause, struggling to put into words the difficult, long-repressed feelings festering inside them, you find yourself agonizing right along with them. You’ll want to scream advice at the screen: “Stand up for yourself!” “Tell him how you feel!” Whatever flaws it may have, the ability to generate that kind of personal involvement makes Foxcatcher well worth seeing.

This isn’t the kind of cast I’d normally rush out to see. Channing Tatum plays Mark Schultz, a former Olympic wrestler fallen on hard times and living largely in the shadow of his brother Dave (Mark Ruffalo). Then he’s contacted by the fantastically wealthy John du Pont (Steve Carell), who gives him what he’s always wanted: confidence, a mission, and a seeming father figure.

Jut out jaw. Hold arms away from body. Stare. Performance complete.

Jut out jaw. Hold arms away from body. Stare. Performance complete.

The only word I can think of that describes this movie is “odd.” I’ve never seen anything quite like it. Many of the scenes seem to be structured to cause you as much discomfort as possible – like one in which Schultz asks to use “the commode” and then urinates while awkwardly staring at a portrait on the bathroom wall. The pee noises in the scene are unusually loud. Steve Carell was already the master of second-hand embarrassment, but you haven’t seen his real skill until you see him force another wrestler to (essentially) mount him on the floor while his elderly mother (Vanessa Redgrave) watches from her wheelchair.

The atmosphere of the abnormal is build up bit by bit, one unusual event piled atop another. The characters circle each other warily, silently, like they’re engaged in a two-hour wrestling match. You know that something has got to happen eventually, but when it finally does, it comes out of nowhere and practically slams you back in your seat.

The closest thing I can compare it to is a Darren Aronofsky film a la Black Swan, but this is a step beyond even that. While it’s not a dramatic descent into insanity, it is an exceedingly disturbing meander into the weird. It’s fascinating to watch these characters trapped by the frustrations and failures of the past, unable to escape from the impending tragedy of their futures. It’ll stick with you.

Foxcatcher Steve CarellSeeing Carell in a dramatic role is a surprise, but his performance as John du Pont (aided by some impressive makeup) is both sympathetic and unsettling. His strange, halting walk, his unusual speech pattern, and his half-closed eyes create an air of unease even when he’s at his most jovial. You never know quite what this man will say or do next. I’d love to have a beer and talk wrestling with Ruffalo’s character, who is almost inhumanly likable. The only real question mark, for me, was Tatum – is he acting or just sticking his lower jaw out? Are his silences intense, or was the director just pulling a “Keanu Reeves in The Matrix” and giving him as little to say as possible? I can’t tell.

Foxcatcher has some flaws – the pacing is sometimes bafflingly slow, and the story skips through great gulfs of “real life” time – but it’s a fascinating psychological journey with some solid performances.

AXE GIANT: THE WRATH OF PAUL BUNYAN

2013 – Young adults at a first-time offenders’ boot camp discover the legend of the giant lumberjack Paul Bunyan is real, but is much more horrifying than they could have imagined.

Rejoice, my twos and threes of readers! After a lengthy starting-a-new-job-and-having-it-drain-all-my-creative-passion exodus, I have returned to help you answer life’s pressing movie-related questions. Foremost among these today is: how can a movie entitled Axe Giant: The Wrath of Paul Bunyan (or AGTWOPB) not be the greatest movie ever made?

Here’s the thing: bad movies are only good when they’re not supposed to be bad. It’s like watching someone pretend to trip vs. seeing a legitimate tumble – or, for instance, watching Sharknado as opposed to The Room. The key ingredient is the knowledge that the filmmakers were trying to make something good and failing gloriously in the attempt.

The makers of AGTWOPB consciously set out to make a cheap, bad horror movie. Tragically, they shouldn’t have even had to try. Paul Bunyan is really a gigantic, near-immortal mutant who goes on a bloody killing spree because some kid steals the horn of Babe, the long-dead blue ox? How can that turn into such a dull, lifeless, forgettable affair? In the interest of time (we’ve got a lot of ground to cover) I’ll run through my main complaints:

  1. There are too many characters with too little screen time. Who is the hero? We should know who to root for within 3 minutes of the opening credits.
  2. The deaths were not creative enough. Decapitations get old after three or four.
  3. There’s a pathetic shoehorned-in sympathetic backstory for Bunyan. I don’t care. This isn’t King Kong.

The only glimmer of hope I have is that the ending leaves things wide open for a Friday the 13th style sequel where Bunyan’s corpse could re-animate at the bottom of a lake. With that in mind, I’m proposing a big-budget, star-studded remake to turn this cinematic dump into the cash cow franchise it deserves to be.

Joe Estevez as Meeks
Axe Giant Joe Estevez The legendary bad movie actor plays a standard “crazy old coot” who warns the kids about Bunyan but then turns out to be sort of in league with him (I guess). Let’s upgrade to the most respected Estevez, Martin Sheen, who can re-capture some of his Spawn-era glory with a hammy turn here.

Axe Giant Martin Sheen

Dan Haggerty as Foreman Bill

Axe Giant Dan Haggerty

Foreman Bill is the guy who goes off to take a dump at the beginning of the movie after killing Babe the blue ox. We need a big, imposing brute for this role, and there’s nobody bigger or more brutish sans makeup than Ron Perlman. He’s down for anything.

Ron Perlman Axe Giant

Thomas Downy as Sgt. Hoke

Axe Giant Thomas Downey

He’s “the jerk.” The movie blew a real opportunity with this character, a guy who’s such a bastard that he makes up a song about what a bastard he is and forces everyone else to sing it. Unfortunately, Hoke just isn’t given time to blossom. This role is an opportunity for a badass actor to really ham it up and chuckle at himself, meaning it’s perfect for my long-dreamed-of Steven Seagal career revival.

Axe Giant Steven Seagal

Amber Connor as CB

Axe Giant Amber Connor

She’s “the good girl” among the no-good kids at the boot camp. This is the perfect role for a young up-and-comer who needs all the exposure she can get – think Jennifer Lawrence in Last House on the Left. As a matter of fact, hell, let’s just go with Jennifer Lawrence. It’ll give her a chance to prove that her “golly gee I’m so excited to be meeting all the big movie stars because I’m just a regular ol’ gal” routine is as genuine as we all know it isn’t.

Axe Giant Jennifer Lawrence

Tim Lovelace as Tanner

Axe Giant Tim Lovelace

He’s “the sheriff” and CB’s dad. Another of the movie’s many maybe-heroes. We need a washed-up older guy who still has convincing tough guy credentials. Call in Gary Busey before he succumbs to that stroke he’s been working on the past 20 years.

Axe Giant Gary Busey

Jesse Kove as Zack

Axe Giant Jesse Kove

He’s “the other jerk,” the sullen kid everyone hates who turns out to maybe have a bit of a heart before the end. When you think “jerk everyone hates,” you think Shia LaBoeuf, right? Yeah, I did, too. Just look at him. Jerk.

Axe Giant Shia LaBeouf

Kristina Kopf as Ms. K

Axe Giant Kristina Kopf

The goodhearted counselor who is the yang to Sgt. Hoke’s yin, Ms. K is the third member of the movie’s confusing “too many heroes” triumvirate. What we need here is an older, halfway-respectable actress who just doesn’t care anymore. Clearly, as evidenced by her role as Young Hillary Clinton in those awful-looking Divergent movies, Kate Winslet fits the bill.

Axe Giant Kate Winslet

Jill Evyn as Trish

Axe Giant Jill Evyn

She’s “the red-haired slut” and fulfills (barely) the movie’s requisite topless scene. Since she has red hair I was going to suggest replacing her with Bryce Dallas Howard

Axe Giant Bryce Dallas Howard

…but since she also shows her boobs, I’m going to go with Kat Dennings. Just… because.

Axe Giant Kat Dennings

Clifton Williams as Marty

Axe Giant Clifton Williams

We’ve come to “the black guy.” This character doesn’t do much, save for one scene where he screams and cries mournfully. Therefore, the actor most perfectly equipped to portray Marty is Will Smith’s Son. I’m not going to bother to look up his name.

Axe Giant Will Smith Son

Victoria Ramos as Rosa

Axe Giant Victoria Ramos

Again, as the cast’s requisite “non-white woman,” poor Rosa is rather neglected in the screenplay. She is Hispanic, however, and therefore we have no choice but to cast Michelle Rodriguez in the part.

Axe Giant Michelle Rodriguez

Chris Hahn as Bunyan

Axe Giant Chris Hahn

Nothing against Mr. Hahn, but we’re going to need to power up and cast Kane Hodder, a.k.a. Jason, as the monstrous mountain man.

Axe Giant Kane Hodder

I would also accept Andrew Bryniarski.

Axe Giant Andrew Bryniarski

For now, though, if you want an entertainingly bad movie with almost the exact same plot, check out Grizzly Park.