Foxcatcher (Review)

⭐⭐⭐⭐ (Excellent)

⭐⭐⭐⭐ (Excellent)

Director: Bennett Miller
Starring: Steve Carrell, Channing Tatum, Mark Ruffalo, Vanessa Redgrave
Certificate: 15
Run Time: 134 mins 

‘Foxcatcher’ is the third feature film from director Bennett Miller behind ‘Capote’ and ‘Moneyball’, both films garnered very positive critical reception and both ultimately went on to be nominated for a slew of awards with Philip Seymour Hoffman being awarded an Oscar for his portrayal as Truman Capote. ‘Foxcatcher’ appears to be a hat trick for Miller as it entered the Palme d’Or at the 2014 Cannes Film Festival in the main competition section and Miller even went on to win the Best Director Award. The performances in this film, like in Miller’s two previous films, have once again gained a lot of attention and the main cast of Steve Carrell, Channing Tatum and Mark Ruffalo have been very positively received, with Carrell and Ruffalo up for acting awards at this years Academy Awards. The film was delayed a year for Miller to complete editing and also to avoid last year’s very crowded Oscar race. So this is sure-fire Oscar bait and it’s even been delayed back a year for it to be made into a supposedly even better film.

‘Foxcatcher’ has a very grim, sullen, bleak storyline full of its ups-and-downs between characters and is a very character-driven tale based on Mark Schultz’s (the main character of the film played by Channing Tatum) memoir, ‘Foxcatcher: The True Story Of My Brother’s Murder, John DuPont’s Madness and the Quest For Olympic Gold’. The film follows this exact journey that the memoir is titled. Mark Schultz is invited to John DuPont’s 800-acre estate, ‘Foxcatcher Farm’, who DuPont (Steve Carrell) promises to train him for the upcoming World Championship and coach fellow wrestlers. DuPont constantly urges Mark to enlist his brother Dave (Mark Ruffalo) who has settled into a comfortable life with his family. However DuPont is determined to ‘collect’ Dave and there are disastrous consequences between the three characters.

‘Foxcatcher’ is a fascinating, enthralling and meticulously crafted film packed with excellent performances all-round from the cast. Steve Carrell is the standout and is very disturbing and calculated as John DuPont. The camera shots are excellent as are the locations that the film uses which help to create a very eerie, disconcerting, yet seemingly safe atmosphere. The film does get a bit self-indulgent at times and is quite a long stretch at 134 minutes. There are a couple of parts which are a little bit dull and it’s a bit disappointing how the audience grow to know the characters only for the film to end so abruptly, but then again, the ending events are abrupt anyway!

The acting is most definitely the film’s main strength. Steve Carrell is fantastic and it’s really good to see him not playing in a comedy film – he really uses his acting chops here. Carrell totally deserves commending for his work here and deserves his Academy Award nomination for Best Actor and arguably deserves the win. Similarly Channing Tatum, also in a leading role, is excellent here as the gruff, ambitious Mark Schultz and the work that he has put into his role is incredible, down to the facial expressions. Mark Ruffalo is probably the weakest out of the three main cast but he also has buffed up physically for the role and offers a very competent portrayal of Dave Schultz. In terms of supporting cast, Vanessa Redgrave is the standout as DuPont’s elderly and ill mother who regards wrestling as a “low sport” to which DuPont does fall to a very low standard as the film progresses. It’s a small role, but one that is effectively acted by Redgrave. There is a scene mid-way throughout the film where Regrave’s character observes Carrell teaching his class, who then spurred on to try and impress his mother, Carrell awkwardly begins to demonstrate some moves to the other wrestlers. The chemistry between these two actors is just incredible and the scene is fantastic. Likewise, the chemistry between Tatum and Ruffalo is also fantastic and they have many fantastic opportunities to demonstrate this, which they do especially in a pivotal, gut-wrenching scene in the middle of the film. Without the first-rate acting in this film, the film would not have seen this success and the acting really helps to propel this film high.

The camera shots and locations for this film are just incredible. There is a lots of blurring of characters, particularly Carrell’s DuPont creating a sense of foreboding and furthermore, the locations are extremely fitting. The wrestling training facilities are done to perfection and DuPont’s quarters are very decadent with a slightly sinister ‘Psycho-esque’ spin on the mansion.

Granted, the film can be very slow at times, but it really helps to give the film a slow burn and allows the audience to savour what Miller throws at them. There are a couple of instances when the film does get a bit too slow where Miller indulges a bit, but this is more than made up for in many exceptionally acted and intense scenes. The film is very disturbing and Carrell’s character is very unpredictable and this helps to further enthral the audience in this surreal, gritty world.

‘Foxcatcher’ is an excellent film that is well worth the wait and it should definitely hold its own in the upcoming Academy Awards. It is a very slow burn and the film is enthralling and Miller’s slick, often meticulous direction really pushes the film into the next tier. The phenomenal acting is the film’s main strength and four excellent performances, particularly a very noteworthy Steve Carrell in a very dark, sinister and serious role, who is utterly brilliant as the calculated, psychopathic John DuPont. This is a stellar film and Bennett Miller has done himself proud – this film is screaming for awards!

⭐⭐⭐⭐ (Excellent)

The Woman In Black: Angel Of Death (Review)

The Woman in Black- Angel of death

⭐⭐⭐ (Good)

Director: Tom Harper
Starring: Phoebe Fox, Helen McCrory, Jeremy Irvine, Adrian Rawlins, Leanne Best
Certificate: 15
Run Time: 98 mins

‘The Woman In Black: Angel Of Death’ is the sequel to the film that essentially revived Hammer – ‘The Woman In Black’ and it was the highest grossing British horror film since records began. The film, adapted from Susan Hill’s hit horror novella in 1983, was another resounding success and the novel has also been adapted into a stage play by Stephen Mallatratt and is the second longest-running play in West End’s history, after Agatha Christie’s, ‘The Mousetrap’. In 2013, Hammer decided to greenlight a sequel to the smash-hit film and the novel was penned by crime writer Martyn Waites with Susan Hill having creative input and also helping to write the script for the film.

This time, the story is set in the height of the Second World War where London is being bombed. Headmistress Jean Hogg (played astutely by Helen McCrory) and Teacher Eve Parkins (Phoebe Fox’s debut film role) are evacuating a class of children to the countryside, in this case, the dreaded Eel Marsh House where almost immediately a dangerous presence is lurking and the children are slowly being picked off one by one. Who could it be? The Woman in Black, of course!

The film doesn’t hold itself up anywhere remotely near to the original but as a standalone film, it fulfils its purpose just fine. The film isn’t particularly memorable and the scares are pretty second-rate (quiet…quiet…BANG!) but director Tom Harper sure has an eye for aesthetics here as the film is excellently shot (save for a couple of moments where it really does get a bit too dark) and as far as sequels go, this one still shows that there is some sparkle left.

Despite the scares being ultimately very second-rate, the film did keep me on the edge of my seat. Harper creates a really creepy atmosphere and the film needs to be rewarded with some excellent scares, but it just never happens and every single scare is either a rehash from another horror film or it’s something as trivial as a bird bashing into a window. The audience deserve a pay-off and every single creepy moment just ultimately falls flat. There is plenty of room for some really spine-tingling, effective scares but the film just goes with the usual claptrap which is a really big shame. The first film relied on jump scares as well but there were ultimately a couple of really chilling scares in it and what this film also lacks is a sense of suspense which the first film masterfully did. What’s especially baffling is that whenever there is a close-up of the Woman in Black, she actually looks almost pantomime-like which is a real shame and really detracts from the film. The make-up of her in the first film was very sinister and the couple of times that there was a close-up of her really managed to jolt the audience. Here it’s the other way round.

What the film also lacks is an exciting cast – Phoebe Fox, Helen McCrory and Jeremy Irvine (who plays the dashing love interest for Fox’s character) are fine, but a really good performance from a well-known actor would really have elevated this film. In the first film, there was Daniel Radcliffe who was excellent in his mature post-Harry Potter first role and even Ciaran Hinds and Janet McTeer did a decent job too. This just doesn’t happen from any of the cast here and an exciting cast could definitely have helped the film move up a tier.

The cinematography however is beautiful and the film is very aesthetically astute. The look of the film is very bleak, sombre and really fits in well with the Second World War period setting. What lets it down unfortunately are moments where the film is a bit too dark and the details are quite hard to pick out. The use of all the devilish ornaments scattered around the house are effective too and really help to conjure up a creepy atmosphere.

Overall, ‘The Woman In Black: Angel Of Death’ is an inferior horror sequel to its original, but in terms of how sequels go, it’s a perfectly fine one. It manages to create a creepy atmosphere but the scares are unfortunately very weak. The cinematography is a plus though and the fact that stylistically, it can just about hold up to the excellent cinematography of the first film is of merit. But as Arthur Kipps says at the end of the original novel, “They have asked for my story. I have told it. Enough.”

⭐⭐⭐ (Good)