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Monthly Archives: April 2015

With “Capote” and “Moneyball”, Bennett Miller is one of those people to whose new film I really look forward to. That is the reason why I watched a film about wrestling (of very little interest to me in general) with Steve Carell (who I don’t mind but I have never seen him in anyhing interesting). Foxcatcher got some nasty reviews, but also apparently some enthusiastic ones, keeeping it in the loop for the previous Oscar discussions, at least for the acting of Carell.

At the heart of the film is actually (in my reading) not Carell’s billionaire character, but Channing Tatum’s sad sod of a former Olympic wrestling champion. This is not a very subtle role, so you cannot blame Tatum for performing it with an every-steady slightly dumb facial and physical expression. It did feel a bit one-dimensional after a while though, and I started wishing his brother’s character, played by Mark Ruffalo with outrageous facial hair, had been elaborated a bit more on. But as it was, it came down to the relationship of a delusional rich man and his toys, one of which being “his wrestler”. I suppose this should be uncomfortable to watch at times, because that was what the real-life story was, but the ever-gloomy atmosphere was a bit of a downer.

The film still has some great moments, one of my favourite ones probably being the opening sequence, where we observe a regular training session of a world class wrestler – as with so many professional sports at this level, a depressing thing to watch, while you can still admire the level of the performance. It was also a good choice to not focus on the actual fights that the training builds up to. One reason being that there is no way you can make a wrestling fight interesting. The other being that it does not really matter, it is just a moment in time. After the fight is before the fight, all glamour fades very quickly, and you end up being the motivational  speaker for a class of high school students for a 20 dollar fee.

Despite its flaws (I was never really convinced by Steve Carell’s performance, for example), the atmosphere of the movie is well crafted, even if that means that it is among the least pleasant film experiences I have recently had. Sad sods all around…

This is a dream project for an actor who aged spectacularly well, but who does not seem to focus enough on acting to get roles suitable to his well-weathered face. The Old Man and the Sea is what you want to do (if not King Lear), and that’s what Redford does here: just him and a boat, facing the calamity of experience getting a hit by a floating cargo container.

Slowly but steadily the situation deteriorates (not always in a logical way), until, well, all is lost. J.C. Chandor, one of the most exciting directors of recent years (the splendidly cool “Margin Call” and the new “A Most Violent Year” which sounds very promising) plays it very relaxed and shows a man who faces trouble, but cannot be overwhelmed by it (most of the time).

There is almost no dialogue (nor monologue), there is very limited frantic hero action. There is mostly the effort of a regular guy without exceptional survival talents to survive an accident. He tries the same strategies most of us would try, some of which we may have seen in the movies, and some of which fail miserably. So he carries on to try the next thing. Watching Redford do this makes for very intensive cinema, but not quite for a survival thriller. As such, a couple of terrible days in the life of a rich man with a boat, this works very well!

I do not like car chases (neither in movies nor in real life). This is the reason why I never saw those “Fast Furious” franchise films, and have only decided to catch up now that the seventh installment has received such rave reviews. The good thing is: “The Fast and the Furious” has not too many car chases. What it has is cars, and car races, and … what do you call them? Car bunnies? And car tough guys. And it has Vin Diesel, who for all it’s worth is very good at what he’s doing. It also has Paul Walker, who is cute, it has some generic Asian bad guys team on motorbikes, which is a nice add-on, and some it has a nasty FBI guy, which is always a good thing for an action flick.

There is some decent on-street choreography going on, with formation truck jacking and camp but funny camera rides through what I suppose is cgi car machinery.

What is above average is the stomping soundtrack, and the ability of the screenwriters to inject some form of human credibility into Vin Diesel’s character. From what I hear (most recently through the Filmspotting review and their Top 5) is that this is not the highlight of the series, and that’s good to hear. It is not a masterpiece, but I can see how this could evolve into something people looked forward to. So I join in and look forward to … 2 Fast 2 Furious. 1 down, 6 to go…

As was written so often in the reviews: “A deeply satisfying movie experience.” And it’s true. Of course this is all over-the-top nonsense, the way a John Woo film is over-the-top nonsense. Of course this is all a bunch of hyper-choregraphed glorification of violence (in the way a John Woo film is a bunch of hyper-choregraphed glorification of violence). And of course it has some questionable crime mob stereotypes (in the way …  I guess “Taken” is the new gold standard for this).

But it is satisfying, because the good guy has a cause, and the bad guys had it coming. It is full of splendid set pieces (the night club!), joyfully eerie settings (the “Continental Hotel” as a launching pad and socialising hub for assassins), splendid casting (Ian McShane delivering the best sentence of the film: “Your membership at the Continental has been revoked by your own doing”, but also Willem Dafoe! Michael Nyqvist! Lance Reddick! John Leguizamo!). The fact that Keanu Reeves (a not too terrific screen presence in my book) plays John Wick is acceptable, now that Reeves has become a bit more bulky and aged. He looks more on-screen alive than in previous years – I still do not care for him too much, and perceived him to almost be a “no  name actor” choice, which is not a bad thing for the film, as John Wick may well be a prominent assassin (“he is the guy you send to kill the fucking boogeyman”), but in this line of work a certain ability to stay anonymous and invisible is of help.

Despite the inevitable missteps, pacing and story issues (what’s with that killer lady? And is that personal assistant of Viggo just poorly written or poorly played?), this is a great hands-on action film. Well done, and see you at the sequel!

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