The Film Gang

Wild Tales

Play

Listen above to the review by Dennis Morton.

Maps to the Stars

Play

Listen above, to the review by Dennis Morton – and read it below.

Maps To The Stars is a very strange film. It’s filled with subjects and situations that most of us don’t talk about, at least in public. It’s described as a comedy, and indeed, there are laughs. But the humor is almost unrelentingly dark. If I had to describe it in a sentence, I’d say the movie is a vicious satire on the self-obsession that sometimes accompanies fame. Unsurprisingly, it’s set in Hollywood?

(more…)

Mr. Turner

Play

Listen to the review by David H. Anthony, above.

Blackhat

Play

Listen to the review by Dennis Morton above, and read it below.

At the outset, let me say that I rarely attempt to review thrillers. Part of the reason is that there aren’t many thrillers that I end up appreciating, and generally, I only write about films that I like. I do admit, though, that the genre is a guilty pleasure and that I occasionally scratch the itch.

Which brings me to Blackhat. I left the theatre realizing that I’d been ‘glued’, as they say, to the screen for the full two hours and thirteen minutes of its duration. Yes, I was thoroughly entranced, but I wasn’t at all sure why. So, I went back two more times to find out, and each time, I realized I liked it more and more.

(more…)

Foxcatcher

Play

Listen to the review by Dennis Morton above, and read it below.

I’m not a fan of ignorance, but I must say, I’m glad I wasn’t familiar with the true story that Foxcatcher is based on. I’m glad also that the preview of the film managed to pique my interest without revealing any of the essential dramatic details.

Foxcatcher is a character study of three people: Mark Schultz, an Olympic gold medal wrestler, his brother Dave, also an Olympic gold medal wrestler, and John du Pont, scion of the du Pont Family and its vast fortune.

The movie opens with a series of old photographs and short film clips depicting preparation for the so called ‘sport’ of fox hunting. There are dozens of hounds being readied for the chase and a posse of formally attired hunters on horseback. And finally, a short clip of a lone fox running for its life across an open field.

These antiquated portraits of an actual fox hunt amount to a metaphor for the story that follows. But in this story, there are two foxes, and one of them doesn’t even know he’s being hunted.

Steve Carell plays John du Pont. He is magnificent in the role. Carell’s du Pont is a soft spoken megalomaniac. The one thing that his massive fortune can’t seem to buy is self respect and a genuine friendship. And du Pont is desperate for it. He is a man of many interests and not inconsiderable talents. One of the running jokes in Foxcatcher is a verbal repetition of a handful of the numerous ‘ists’ that du Pont is: author, ornithologist, philatelist, philanthropist – author, ornithologist, philatelist, philanthropist.

In his feckless drive for self esteem, du Pont attempts to lure the Schultz brothers to Foxcatcher Farms, his grandiloquent estate in rural Pennsylvania, not far from Valley Forge. He succeeds in talking Mark, the younger brother, into joining him, ostensibly to train for the 88 Seoul Olympics. (Among other things, du Pont imagines himself to be a wrestling coach.) But Dave Schultz, happily married and with two children, turns down the offer.

Channing Tatum plays Mark Schultz. Tatum’s Schultz is an insecure, closet masochist. At the time of du Pont’s offer, notwithstanding his recent 1984 Olympic gold medal, Mark is living in near poverty. He packs his few belongings and drives to Foxcatcher Farms, leaving, for the first time in his life, his brother Dave behind.

Eventually, Dave does decide to pack up his family and join his brother at Foxcatcher Farms. Dave’s job is to train and work-out with a team of aspiring Olympians. du Pont, to his dismay, discovers that Dave cannot be coerced into the kinds of self-destructive behaviors that he lured brother Mark into. What follows will likely shock you, if, like me, you are unfamiliar with the true life events that Foxcatcher is based on.

Mark Ruffalo is great as Dave Schultz. Channing Tatum is terrific as his brother Mark. And Steve Carell should get an Oscar nomination for his portrait of John du Pont.

Foxcatcher is one of the best films of the year. Don’t miss it.

A Most Wanted Man

Play

Listen to the review by David H. Anthony above, or read it below.
 

 
Months after his untimely death in February of this year, the brilliant Philip Seymour Hoffman continues to capture the imaginations and hearts of moviegoers. This is clear from his first moments on screen in A Most Wanted Man, the latest film adaptation of a John Le Carré espionage thriller. Set in post 9-11 Germany, it trades militant Islamism for Communism in a neo Cold War combat between the West and The Rest. Hoffmann is Günther Bachmann, a German operative in a dark force functioning in deep cover. He must unravel and counteract a potential threat posed by a Muslim Chechen torture victim who is seeking to connect with an articulate intellectual interlocutor. This interlocutor may or may not be financially implicated in money laundering ventures bankrolling arms purchases for nefarious purposes. Given the contemporary geopolitical situation, little about the plot is surprising. It is predictable, with righteously motivated quasi-simpatico villains and flawed would-be heroes, Le Carre’s formula. What holds viewer attention are the ways in which characters interact in what can seem yet another cynically played high stakes game of chess with the ‘Free World’ as its prize.

Consistent with Le Carrés vision, we are frequently left wondering who is free, if anyone. The entities arrayed in A Most Wanted Man, are local, national and global. They are caught in ceaseless competition between separate security services ostensibly engaged in a common purpose. But they are unrelentingly as ruthless in their internal rivalries with one another as with their state and non-state adversaries. The story inevitably involves finance capital and its role in making all things possible in this case a means for Willem Dafoe to showcase his penchant for moral ambiguity. Homayun Ershadi of Kite Runner fame is a puzzling presence. Robin Wright exemplifies American assurance and is almost as arresting as Hoffmann in her appearances as the face of a still very strong superpower projecting itself.

Le Carré is especially good at complicating characters by conferring upon them crises of conscience. Much like Tinker Tailor’s George Smiley, Bachmann recognizes that the other side has legitimate grievances and never loses sight of this fact while doing his duty. He does not think himself or his job virtuous, only nastily necessary and is all too aware of his own flaws and foibles, reminding himself of his failings whenever others are not ensuring that they do not escape his or their consciousness.

Bachmann has many enemies: His own doubts, his opponents’ capacities to make mayhem, and the sinister certitude of crusading colleagues and compatriots. This quality of self-questioning keeps our attention and moves the film along even when talk overrides action sequences. A Most Wanted Man is not so much a whodunit as a how to deal with it. Even so, it must be read carefully. What is being communicated when a central character whose function is to counsel interfaith tolerance and dialogue is exposed as an agent fueling hostilities? What does that say about those sincerely pursuing peace through communication?

Bachmann is the foil for the spy who understands himself and others to be going through the motions of saving the world when there are no winners or losers, but we who watch may draw different conclusions. The film runs the real risk of reinforcing stereotypes of Muslims as inscrutable “others” who are implacable foes of non-Muslims. Le Carré succeeds at humanizing his protagonists and antagonists, but we as viewers owe it to ourselves and them to demystify his ordinary every day subjects, not as rogues in sleeper cells waiting to awaken and pounce upon innocents in subways, markets or shopping malls, but as regular people, a minority of whom may well at times resort to extreme measures in response to perceived provocations. After all most people are just trying to live their lives.

Finding Vivian Maier

Play

Listen to the review by David H. Anthony above, or read it below.

http://www.vivianmaier.com/

Finding Vivian Maier – a film by John Maloof and Charlie Siskel

At one time or another many of us may ask ourselves if we possess hidden talents. But what about those who deliberately choose to hide their gifts? In 2009, at a Chicago auction house seeking material for a book, photographer John Maloof serendipitously came upon just such an unacknowledged, purposefully obscure talent, an ostensibly forgettable, recently deceased nanny named Vivian Maier, who left behind a horde of photographs, negatives and motion picture film that convinced him to investigate who she was.

(more…)