Tag Archives: Mark Ruffalo

Foxcatcher: wrestling with doubts

20 Jan

Foxcatcher

It’s rare that I feel totally out of step with the world on a movie, but Foxcatcher is one such. Why all the raves? Steve Carell gives a very good, very understated performance as the socially awkward billionaire who decides to fund America’s 1988 Olympic wrestling team, in which his creepiness, aptly, creeps up on you. But part of the pleasure is the sheer surprise at seeing the comedian take on such a downbeat role. As Samuel Johnson said of female preachers, “It is like a dog’s walking on its hind legs. It is not that it is done well; but you are surprised to find it done at all.”

Chuck Tatum is similarly cast against type, suppressing his usual breezy charm as the dour wrestler Mark Schultz. He is aiming for a portrait of brooding physicality, but just comes across as entirely absent. Only Mark Ruffalo as his brother is allowed to play his usual role, as the dishevelled, easygoing nice guy, and does so with effortless rumpled charisma.

As for the direction, by Bennett Miller of Moneyball and Capote fame, it lost me from the off. I often like slow films where nothing much happens. Not this one. As son Sam said afterwards, with his usual perspicacity, “I’ve seen so many indie films recently where slowness is mistaken for depth, and where all the shots are in shallow focus to foreground the actors, to emphasise how good their performances are.”

With no one to root for, and a meandering narrative (it’s based on a true story, which does not always make for satisfying drama), I found the whole thing just alienating. Maybe I’d feel more kindly inclined if expectations hadn’t been raised so high by its five Oscar noms. But if you want to see an Oscar contender this week, I’d sooner recommend Birdman, Whiplash, The Theory Of Everything or (probably – I haven’t yet seen it) American Sniper.

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Now You See Me: the secret mind control behind the film magic revealed

2 Jul

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Now You See Me is an old-fashioned caper movie with a 21st-century sheen: Ocean’s Eleven meets Derren Brown. A raggle-taggle band of magicians — mentalist Woody Harrelson, escapologist Isla Fisher, card sharp Jesse Eisenberg and street hustler Dave Franco – are recruited one by one by a mysterious hooded figure who uses their skills in elaborate Robin Hood stunts to redistribute wealth. Morgan Freeman plays the magic-buster who is there to explain their tricks to the cops (Mark Ruffalo and Mélanie Laurent), and thereby also to the viewer; Michael Caine also lends star power in an underwritten part.

The film has become a surprise hit in the US, grossing over $100 million in a summer full of blockbusters, and industry pundits have put that down to good word-of-mouth and marketing centred on much-loved Morgan Freeman. That may be true, but I have another explanation, a fiendish and cunning explanation, one that all along has been hiding in plain view.

Look again at the poster: the film’s seven stars gaze up at you hypnotically, like Reservoir Dogs in 3D, over the vast heading “Now You See Me”. Having communed with my inner Derren Brown, I can exclusively reveal that it is in reality one giant subliminal command. As in, “You: See Me. Now!”

You might as well just go with it. The film is directed with enormous energy by Louis Leterrier of Transporter and Hulk fame, and spectacularly well edited by his regular collaborator Vincent Tabaillon (jointly credited with veteran Robert Leighton). One might wish more effort had been put into making the characters as likeable or the love story as convincing as the tricks, but the plot twists cleverly, keeping one step ahead of the viewer right up to the final frame.

That said, the key to magic, as the protagonists keep telling us, is misdirection, and that applies just as well to Now You See Me. It’s a film of smoke and mirrors, blinding the viewer to the fact that, at heart, it’s utter tosh. As with machines, the most durable criminal plans have the fewest moving parts; the magicians’ ridiculously complex schemes could easily have gone awry at any juncture.

And illusion on film simply doesn’t thrill the way it does live. When I was a kid, I half-believed in vampire visitations and fairy-tale wishes, and was so convinced that my parents were shape-changing aliens that I rattled the doorknob before entering to give them time to adopt human form. No? Just me, then?

Anyway, the David Blaines and Derren Browns can reconnect you to that childish sense of prickling wonder, where you almost start believing, for a split second, telepathy, or levitation, or the power to predict the future. On film you just believe in the power of CGI to do anything and that Woody Harrelson has read a script rather than minds.

Film itself has been called “magic at 24 frames per second”. To me, it’s enough to see other human beings living intensely on screen, in places I could never visit, and lose myself so completely inside them that I emerge at the end credits blinking, surprised to find myself sitting in a cinema.

This is not the kind of magic Now You See Me performs. But if you want nothing more than a highly entertaining way to spend an evening, then… alakazam!

Now You See Me opens on July 3