Archives for posts with tag: Steve Carell

Foxcatcher

From Capote (2005) collaborators director Bennett Miller and co-writer Dan Futterman, here is another somber character study revolving around the circumstances of a true crime. Magic Mike himself, Channing Tatum, stars as Olympic grappler Mark Schultz, who in 1987 was taken under the wing of eccentric pharmaceuticals heir John E. “Golden Eagle” du Pont (Steve Carell), who sponsored America’s team at Seoul in 1988. Du Pont would hardly warrant the movie treatment if not for the fact that he murdered Schultz’s brother Dave (Mark Ruffalo), another one of the wrestlers sponsored by the eccentric multimillionaire, in 1996.

Tatum gets another role that allows him to display not only his competence as an actor, but his impressive athleticism as well. Comedian Steve Carell, nominated for Best Actor, has with justification been praised for bringing to life an unexpectedly deep and enigmatic character, and his exaggeration of Du Pont’s halting quirks of speech and his solemn air succeeds in creating an onscreen presence more magnetic and fascinating than the real man who inspired it. Foxcatcher invites comparison with the same year’s similarly intense Whiplash, another story of a disturbing Svengaliesque relationship, and should engross audiences prepared to be entertained by something again as unstintingly grim.

4.5 out of 5 stars. Ideological Content Analysis indicates that Foxcatcher is:

5. Pro-gay. More than one scene of grappling carries an undeniably homoerotic charge. As Kristian Lin observes in Fort Worth Weekly, the film “is about a rich guy who can’t explain his deep-seated need to spend hours each day with his arms around young, muscular men wearing singlets. In real life, du Pont had a wife (who is completely left out of this movie), and his problems likely stemmed from paranoid schizophrenia rather than latent homosexuality.”

4. Anti-drug. Magic Mike’s use of cocaine with Du Pont’s encouragement marks his nadir as a person and athlete. His sponsor also throws him off-course with copious alcohol.

3. Anti-gun. Private gun ownership gets a black eye with Du Pont’s murder of David Schultz. The place name Newtown Square (in Pennsylvania) may also serve as a subliminal reminder of the Sandy Hook Elementary incident in Newtown, Connecticut.

2. Liberal. Du Pont represents the typical NPR listener’s idea of the dread Republican power structure looming over America – an affluent WASP, crazed, gun-obsessed, hypocritical, and probably secretly homosexual. Du Pont appears as an emblematic figure of the Reagan era beloved of today’s conservatives: a coke-snorting military buff and fraud whose money substitutes for character and whose moralizing masks a hollow, selfish depravity.

1. Anti-American. “I want to talk about America. I want to tell you why I wrestle.” With these words, Jewish co-screenwriter Dan Futterman and Shabbos goy collaborator E. Max Frye establish thematically that their movie is concerned with the essence of what it means to be an American. Not long after uttering these lines, Mark is shown nervously wolfing fast food alone in his car. It is, as Lin puts it, “a takedown of the myths we Americans like to tell ourselves.” The viewer is only invited to feel contempt for the monologue in which Du Pont expresses the pro-America feeling that informs his fears: “When we fail to honor that which should be honored, it’s a problem. It’s a canary in a coal mine […] I’m an ornithologist, but more importantly, I am a patriot, and I want to see this country soar again.” If only people were less patriotic and also more open about their obvious gayness, perhaps, the world would be plagued with less madness and murder.

Rainer Chlodwig von Kook

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Reuniting Devil Wears Prada director David Frankel with Meryl Streep, whose performance here is equally good but occupies the opposite end of the female assertiveness scale, Hope Springs is a quality custom vehicle for two veteran actors, the other being a convincingly cynical, pestered, and sour-pussed Tommy Lee Jones as her husband of 31 years.  Can counseling sessions with sensitivity maven Steve Carell put the spice back into what’s left of their dwindling lives?

The trailer is definitely lighter in tone than the actual experience of watching Hope Springs, with many moments of marital mediocrity and sexual despair being genuinely painful to endure.  What’s most remarkable about Hope Springs, though, is that Streep and Jones come through it all with so much dignity intact.  Even as the two are prodded into revealing their intimate foibles and failings and are directed to engage in sexual experimentation by a Daily Show alumnus wearing a series of odd tie choices, they never lose the respect or the intense interest of the viewer.  Commendably, in view of the fact that this is primarily a women’s film, both husband and wife are allowed an equal humanity, and the screenplay, which takes unexpected turns more than once, is as judiciously neutral as can be expected.

Chick flick rules, however, are in effect, which means that men less secure in their masculinity than your reviewer will be embarrassed to enter and exit theaters exhibiting Hope Springs.  Chick flick conventions also dictate occasionally reprehensible music, with the most wince-inducing sequence probably being a montage in which Streep and Jones, having returned from counseling with lingering uncertainties, separately ruminate over whether to give their marriage another chance – a montage, mind you, set to Annie Lennox’s “Why”, which is there to let the women in the audience know that this is serious.

Meryl Streep, even at 63, is an amazingly gorgeous old lady, and her costuming here always captures her at her best, even when she’s supposed to look frumpy and humble.  The bulldog features of Jones, meanwhile, only serve to underscore the depth of Streep’s character’s undying love for her husband, as little else would explain her lust for such a phlegmatic bore.  All that remains to be asked is, now that she’s tamed Clint Eastwood and Tommy Lee Jones, which geriatric stud is next on her hit list?  Maybe next time she can reach Stacy Keach or break through Chuck Norris’s emotional blockage and get him to talk and not just kick about his feelings.

Ideological Content Analysis indicates that Hope Springs is:

3. Pro-gay.  Streep consults a sex manual written by a gay man for straight women – gay men naturally knowing more than women about how to please straight men.

2. Moderately pro-castration.  It’s not enough for men to be men anymore.  They have to go to counseling to discuss intimacy, etc.  The effeminized, empathetic Steve Carell character represents sex role buddhahood in the Hope Springs universe.

1. Pro-marriage, though not without unsettling caveats.

This film, which examines human behavior in the face of impending extinction, has an intriguing first half hour, particularly as it surveys society’s general response: rampant promiscuity, orgies, drug use, and rioting. Some moments are so shocking and uncompromising that I wish these could be salvaged as part of a better film yet to be made on the same subject.

Seeking a Friend for the End of the World is less interesting as it abandons the apocalyptic tableau and focuses on the individual concerns of effeminized, self-pitying wimp and non-leading man Steve Carell, whose cheating wife has abandoned him at the news that humanity is doomed, and his new friend, annoying neighbor Keira Knightley. Specifically, the movie goes into an irrevocably accelerating nosedive from the pointless moment the pair drops in to visit Knightley’s black survivalist ex-boyfriend.

As for the cast, Carell is fun to watch when the material is good, but I’ve learned that I have only a limited tolerance for Knightley’s endless cutesy facial posing. Patton Oswalt appears briefly as a character named Roache and delivers some embarrassingly obscene dialogue, and Martin Sheen wastes a few minutes of what remains of his life as Carell’s estranged father.

Ultimately too self-consciously quirky, uneventful, and self-important, Seeking a Friend for the End of the World is at best a high-potential but squandered opportunity. Carell’s dying world and his interactions with friends and with Knightley hold out the promise of something new and unique in cinema – apocalyptic films tending to be uniformly grim or action-oriented, whereas this could have been an apocalyptic romantic black comedy – but it ends up feeling more like 30 minutes of serious thought and 60 minutes of mopey, superficial navel-gazing and disposable tongue-in-cheek humor and sentimentality. Just an average 3 of 5 stars.

My advice: see the imperfect and frustrating but conversation-sparking film The Rapture (1991) instead.

Ideological Content Analysis indicates that Seeking a Friend for the End of the World is:

3. (Arguably) anti-Occupier, as Knightley’s lazy, arrogantly jobless live-in boyfriend fits the bill and cops out when things get scary, and because riots and looting come across as realistically frightening.

2. Pro-miscegenation, from the standpoint that any publicity is good publicity (accounts for half-star deduction; they really need to start putting this stuff in the trailer as a service to moviegoers)

1. Pro-slut/anti-marriage (though some hope may be held out for unconventional, new age unions)

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