Foxcatcher @ The Ross

John du Pont (Steve Carell)

John du Pont (Steve Carell)

Bennett Miller’s newest film Foxcatcher is a sturm and drang of a production. Set in a time of limbo for Olympic hopefuls who are training for the 1988 Seoul Olympics, Foxcatcher tells the story of Mark and David Schultz, two brother wrestlers who won Gold Medals competing in the 1984 Olympics in Los Angeles. Mark, played by Channing Tatum, lives in a ramshackle of an apartment. The only family he has is his brother David, played by Mark Ruffalo. The film opens with Mark giving a speech to a very uninterested elementary school audience on the American Dream and the discipline and focus necessary to attain it—all for a hefty $20.00. Mark’s hope for another try at that Gold Medal, however, pushes away the effects of his depressing environs. He is alone. He lives alone. His brother David, by contrast, is happily married to Nancy, played by Sienna Miller, and they have two rambunctious fun-loving children. The death of their parents and the sport of wrestling bonded the two brothers. David raised Mark and trained him to wrestle. When the sinister millionaire (and he is sinister) John du Pont (Steve Carell) enters the picture, Miller’s film direction painstakingly constructs a deadly triangle that blindsides all parties involved.

The Brothers Mark Schultz (Channing Tatum) and David Schultz (Mark Ruffalo)

The Brothers Mark Schultz (Channing Tatum) and David Schultz (Mark Ruffalo)

The sturm and drang of Foxcatcher comes from the vision of the after glory of an athletic god who finds no solace in anything other than the Olympic coliseum. That Mark is reduced to accepting speaking engagements at $20 a pop is heartbreaking, and Miller mercilessly opens with this visual. His contrasts in du Pont, Mark, and David men are finely-tuned that when they constellate, you feel the ominous cloud hovering above them.

Once you wade through the grunts and grumbles of men in leotards wrestling on the mat, a story of the shortcomings of wealth emerges. We know the saying: money cannot buy you love. Well, screenwriters E. Max Frye and Dan Futterman have crafted a narrative that places front and center John du Pont’s yearning for the brotherly love he witnesses between Mark and David. For all of his wealth and power; for all of the 1,000 acre du Pont estate in New Town Square Pennsylvania; and, for all of the fatherly demonstrations of love he accords to the ever needy wrestler Mark, John du Pont, heir to the du Pont family fortune, cannot break the unfaltering faith, loyalty, and love between Mark and David. Nor, can he have it. This is Foxcatcher’s arc, and Steve Carell’s portrayal of du Pont’s craving cuts like a knife.

Mark and du Point

Mark and du Point

Jeanne McCarthy’s casting of the wrestlers in Foxcatcher is sharp. Each actor simulates how the sport of wrestling has sculpted their bodies. Together, the wrestlers look like a bunch of eager lemurs as they listen to du Pont’s vapid speeches on wrestling. When they stand, hands droop as those of Dr. Frankenstein’s monster and they bend as if ready to take on an opponent. Such is the effect the sport of wrestling has on the wrestler’s body. You will appreciate the lumbering gait Ruffalo, Tatum, and Carell have mastered.

Foxcatcher plays through January 29 at the Mary Riepma Ross Media Arts Center in Lincoln.

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Get On Your Knees ~ Nicki Minaj ft. Ariana Grande

Nicki Minaj and Ariana Grande

Nicki Minaj and Ariana Grande

Get On Your Knees has thrown under the bus the art of courtship in favor of primal and animalistic sex performance. As I listened to this track, gushy Zales and Kay’s Jewelers commercials came to mind featuring all of those couples who are so in love that only a diamond ring and/or a heart-shaped pendant can express what they really are feeling about romantic love (what’s that?). Yes, over the years as I have listened to some of the music playing on the airwaves, I have tried hard not to admit this but now I must: Courtship–the “middle wo/man” to getting “it”–and all of its accoutrements (roses, poems, jewelry) has been told s/he no longer is needed. Interested partners just should beg for “it!” … sigh … Romance is dead, and Cupid has been thrown to the wolves!

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A Girl Walks Home Alone At Night @ The Ross

The Girl (Sheila Vand)

The Girl (Sheila Vand)

A Girl Walks Alone at Night is the first Iranian Vampire Western ever made. Directed by Iranian filmmaker Ana Lilly Amirpour, this film explores the power of isolation in a small town, and the kinds of elements isolation will breed. Set in a fictional Iranian oil town called Bad City, The Girl, played by Sheila Vand, walks alone at night dressed in the traditional black chador seeking out the bad seeds of the city to devour, namely men who are not kind to women. For cinephiles, the aesthetics of A Girl Walks Home Alone at Night will remind you of Breathless, directed by French New Wave filmmaker Jean Luc Godard in 1960 as well as Francois Truffaut’s 1959 film 400 Blows—oh, and let me mention Touch of Evil, a classic by Orsen Welles produced in 1958.

A Girl Walks Home Alone at Night is shot in black and white, and Lyle Vincent’s cinematography cloaks the city in a static darkness to produce the feel of a sluggish town with nowhere to go and nothing to offer its youth. The sound is spare, so we are forced to feel the action rather than to take the usual cues a film’s soundtrack gives to its audience. This film will hold your interest. Why? Because girls are not supposed to walk alone at night; there are dangers lurking in every corner to prey on them. Armirpour, however, has turned the tables: Here is a girl vampire who fears nothing and no one but everyone around her is in danger.

A Girl Walks Home Alone At Night plays through January 15 at the Ross Media Arts Center in Lincoln.

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The Homesman @ The Ross

Mary Bee Cuddy (Hilary Swank) and George Briggs, The Homesman (Tommy Lee Jones)

Mary Bee Cuddy (Hilary Swank) and George Briggs, The Homesman (Tommy Lee Jones)

We all have heard of people who lived on the prairie during the nineteenth century committing suicide because the land and its lethal isolation had etched itself onto their psyches. Settlers pitched their tents in an environment where there was nothing between them but land and sky–somewhere out there. Men, women, and children built with their bare hands four walls out of sod, hoisted grass or hay for a roof, and called it a homestead … somewhere out there.

These elements on the plains … we all know them: the obnoxious prairie winds and the bitter winters in a nineteenth century world — all could drive a man to drink or catapult a woman onto crazy’s doorstep. And onto crazy’s doorstep is just where three women living on the plains land: Arabella Sours played by Grace Gummer; Theoline Belknap played by Miranda Otto, and Gro Svendsen played by Sonja Richter–three women who found themselves in another state of mind in the middle of nowhere in The Homesman, Tommy Lee Jones’s 2d directorial project. A western, New Mexico fills in for the great plains of Nebraska and Iowa of the 1850s. Hilary Swank co-stars as Mary Bee Cuddy, a self-determined unmarried woman of 31 who single-handedly has worked her acres of land to a profit. Jones stars as George Briggs, a curmudgeon of a drifter whom Mary Bee saves from the hangman’s noose. Briggs, the Homesman, and Mary Bee agree to transport Arabella, Gro, and Theoline across the great plains from Nebraska to be taken in by Altha Carter, the minister’s wife in Iowa, played by Meryl Streep. The plains no longer could tolerate them.

Mary Bee Cuddy (Hilary Swank)

Mary Bee Cuddy (Hilary Swank)

Cinematographer Rodrigo Prieto photographs the stark beauty of the prairie landscape but he admirably portrays its dangers as well. There is nowhere to hide from any threat of attack but George Briggs assures the audience of his resourcefulness in varying scenes. He makes us trust him. Swank’s portrayal of Mary Bee brings a prairie woman with good intentions but her piety can find no home on the flat desolate prairie horizon.

The Homesman dances with the many faces of insanity, and this detail is what will endear the film to you.

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The Homesman plays through January 22 at the Ross Media Arts Center in Lincoln.

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‘Into the Woods’ ~ The Skinny

Jack (Daniel Huttlestone) and Milky White

Jack (Daniel Huttlestone) and Milky White

The singing? Crystal clear! The acting? Committed! The cinematography? Fantastic! From the Broadway stage to the silver screen, screenwriter James Lapine and director Rob Marshall have produced admirably Stephen Sondheim’s heartfelt musical, and we carry with us a host of platitudes when we leave the theater. The music seamlessly is interwoven within the dialogue, and you will not declare through gritted teeth, “just one more !@#$%&* song, and I am out of here!”

Into the Woods is an adventure into the business of wish-making and the tedious processes it takes to make wishes come true. The story also delves into the tensions between children and parents; the search for the charms that will grant motherhood; spells mothers cast on their daughters; and, the hell you pay for touching and taking things that do not belong to you.

Baker's Wife (Emily Blount) and Baker (James Corden)

Baker’s Wife (Emily Blount) and Baker (James Corden)

Tiffany Little Canfield & Co. have assembled a laudable cast for the production, and the actors portray each character with honesty, compassion, and courage. Johnny Depp plays the prurient Wolf that brings to mind a pedophile most nefarious; his rendition of “Hello Little Girl” would cause a rattlesnake to recoil! By contrast, James Corden’s Baker is precious, and the actor interprets the Baker well as a protective husband but reluctant father. Emily Blount as the Baker’s wife, Lilla Crawford as Little Red Riding Hood, and Chris Pine as Prince Charming, among others, ably transport us into the world that critiques the usual suspects who inhabit the land of make believe. A small but significant note: Canfield & Co. sprinkles the palace crowds with people of color.

The darling of the film is, however, Daniel Huttlestone as Jack, and his performance is the reason his photo opens this review. His confidence is catching, yet, he refrains from playing a precocious know-it-all adolescent. Instead, Huttlestone’s Jack trusts in his own world and, with a bit of dash, explores its wonders (and steals from it too) because “you’re free, to do whatever pleases you … exploring things you’d never dare ’cause you don’t care …”

The Wolf (Johnny Depp)

The Wolf (Johnny Depp)

Overplayed and overdone is–here it comes–Meryl Streep as The Witch (did I just hear a shriek?) Simply put, she is miscast! What is all of that whirling dervish mess she acts out in the middle of the wood? Her delivery of “Last Midnight” is hollow–no … maddening, as are her obnoxious over-the-top appearances! For me, she fails to reach the depths of the Witch’s emotions.

While I am at it, I have an issue with Lapine, Marshall, and Mr. Sondheim: The Witch, the eldest of the group, finally gets her wish only to be dismissed? Into the Woods suggests, then, that happy endings are reserved only for young adults and not for the communal elders. Yet, as I call to mind fairy tale endings, their suggestion is par for the course.

Little Red Riding Hood (Lilla Crawford)

Little Red Riding Hood (Lilla Crawford)

Before closing, here are some more things to ponder: Little Red Riding Hood sings Wolf made her “feel excited and scared”; and, exactly what were those secrets she learned of “down a dark slimy path” that Wolf slid her through? As for Jack, he sings the Woman Giant “draws [him] close to her Giant breast, and [he knows] things now that [he] never knew before”, and this friendship causes Man Giant to “come[] along the hall to swallow [him] for lunch … when the fun is done”?

I’m just thinking on these very lyrical moments that rang out with passion into the woods!

And that’s the Skinny!

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